Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Active voice versus Passive voice.

“Nothing drives me up a wall quicker than people writing in passive voice. How do you teach people to differentiate between passive and active voice and to avoid passive voice?”

The first step is to help people understand the difference between active and passive voice. Most writers believe they should avoid the passive voice, but few can define it or recognize it.

So, the first question, Active Voice how do you define it?

In an active sentence, the subject is doing the action. A straightforward example is the sentence "Al loves Michelle." Al is the subject, and he is doing the action: he loves Michelle, the object of the sentence.

The Marvin Gaye song “I Heard It through the Grapevine” is another example of active voice. The subject of the sentence "I" is the one who is doing the action. "I" is hearing "it," the object of the sentence.

What Is Passive Voice?

In passive voice, the target of the action gets promoted to the subject position. Instead of saying, "Al loves Michelle," the sentence would read, "Michelle is loved by Al." The subject of the sentence becomes Michelle, but she isn't doing anything. Rather, she is just the recipient of Al's love. The focus of the sentence has changed from Al to Michelle.

“It was heard by me through the grapevine,” is how to make the title of the Marvin Gaye song passive. You would say not such a catchy title, and you would be right.

Many people believe all sentences containing a form of the verb “to be” are in passive voice, but that isn't true. For example, in the sentence "I am holding a pen" is active voice, but it uses the verb “am,” which is a form of “to be.” The passive form of that sentence is "The pen is being held by me."

Notice that the subject, the pen, isn't doing anything in that sentence. It's not taking an action; it's passive. One clue that your sentence is passive is that the subject isn't taking a direct action.

Is Passive Voice Always Wrong?  Passive voice isn't wrong, but it's often a poor way to present your thoughts.

It is important to remember, passive sentences aren't incorrect, though often they are not the best way to phrase your thoughts. Passive voice can be awkward and at times it’s vague. Passive voice is usually wordy. Replacing a passive sentences with an active one, will tighten your writing by

When you put sentences in passive voice, it's easy to leave out the person or thing doing the action. For example, "Michelle is loved," is passive. The problem with that sentence is that you don't know who loves Michelle.

Ronald Reagan said, “Mistakes were made.” when he referred to the Iran-Contra scandal. Politicians are famous for useing passive voice. It a convenient way obscure the idea of who is taking the action. Other examples of passive voice for political reasons include, “Shots were fired,” and “Bombs were dropped.” Pay close attention and listen for examples of passive voice, when you watch the TV news reports or listen to radio news.

Also, a reader named Priscilla commented that businesses at time will use passive voice. It sounds better to write, "Your electricity will be shut off," than "We, the electric company, will be shutting off your power."

Crime Reports: Is Passive Voice OK?

Sometimes passive voice does have its advantages. For example, if you don’t know who is taking the action, then the person can’t named. It can be quite common, especially with crime reports. For example, a security guard submitting his report will write "The store was robbed," this is because, if the thief isn’t captured right away, then nobody knows the robber identity when the report is files.

Can Passive Voice Work in Fiction Writing?

Passive voice is also sometimes useful in fiction writing. For example, if you were writing a mystery novel and you wanted to highlight missing cookies because they are central to the story, passive voice is the best option. It would make more sense to write, "The cookies were stolen," instead of "Somebody stole the cookies."

The difference is subtle, but in the passive sentence “My candies were stolen,” the focus is on the cookies. In active voice, “Somebody stole my candies,” focuses the attention would be on the unknown thief.

Passive voice can be helpful if you want to create a sense of mystery in your sentence, which is also a reason that it's not usually a good choice when you're writing nonfiction and you want your writing to be clear.

Passive Voice is Recommended for Science Writing?

Exception for passive are scientists. They are encouraged to write in passive voice. It lends a sense of objectivity to their writing. Passive voice takes them, their actions, and opinions out of the experimental results. I find it odd. It feels to as if they are trying to hide that real people did the experiments.

Passive voice has its place. In fiction it’s place is in dialogue. People speak in passive voice. “I already went to the store.” or  “She was here and hour ago.” The use of any “to be” verbs, was, were, had, etc, will render a sentence passive in most cases. In your exposition or narrative, passive voice should and must be avoided. Keep your narrative in active voice and the scenes as seen through your main character’s eyes. (POV) This moves your story along and keeps your audience involved. Passive voice slows down your narrative and can take your reader out of the story.

It can turn into author intrusion. (The author telling the reader what he or she thinks the reader needs to know.) That’s a subject for my next blog,

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A Quote

Second star to the right and straight on 'til morning. ” -- J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

Neverland is a real place. As children, whether sleeping or awake, we instinctively know the way and go there whenever it suits us. The portal to that marvelous world is available every day, through the pictures we love, games we play, the stories we read, or are read to us, and the tales we tell one another.

That gateway never really closes, but life dictates we grow up. As we do, we lose the ability to see the way back, or seeing it, tragically most refuse to reenter that blessed realm. Fortunate for the world, there are those who stand with one foot on each side of, the rift, bridging the way for all.

For all those who wish to return, one has but to listen to the good songs of the minstrels, hear the rhyming words of the poet, study the lives of champions past or present, or read the flights of fancy from those minds and hearts who still dwell in Neverland.

If you still find your way barred, there is another gate, a back door so-to-speak. You unlock it through the pure imagination of children, be they your own, your nieces and nephews, or grandchildren and so on. Open your heart, tamper not with their innocence, and they can, for brief moments, transport you there, and fill your soul with wonder.           --Richard R Draude

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Book Two Plots and Prophecies

Book two of my MacKenna Saga Plots and Prophecies hit the market for both Printer and E books. Early reviews a good. .
Both book Dreams and Deceptions and Plots and prophecies are available on Amazon Print in for the kindle

Book Three Prophecies Diversion is back from my beta readers and is on its way to the editior. Reviews for my readers is full of praise. The best so far said one reader and full of action said another

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The MacKenna Saga Plots and Probhecies

Book two of the Plots and Prophecies went into print on March 15th of this year. On April 15th the E Book went live on  the Smashworsds website.and on Kindle.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Do As We Say, Not As We Do

Attending the Las Vegas Writer’s Conference this past April made the Do As We Say, Not As We Do of the modern publishing industry very evident. Right now you’re scratching your head, wondering, What’s he talking about?
I’ll explain after I say this. Yes I am a writer and the first version of my novel was, at best, horrible and rejected numerous times. My current publisher took on the story, but required a complete rewrite. My editor beat me over the head with the rules you’ll find in the next few paragraphs. I will be expected to adhere to these standards in every book I write, going forward. No, this is not a ‘hit piece’ in retaliation for past rejections. We all get them, it’s part of the process. This blog comes in response to what is presented as the Publishing Standard versus what we see in print from established authors.
Throughout time writing styles and requirements have changed. How an author presents a story to his or her readers is determined by the publishing industry and varies from publishing house to publishing house. In the late seventies publishers required their authors to stop Telling their story, and let the reader live it through the characters’ eyes. Show, Don’t Tell,  is what all authors are expected to adhere to today.
At every writer’s conference you’ll attend, the people presenting the classes are, for the most part, agents, editors, or an acquisitions editor. They will stand in front of a group of eager writers and present material searching for the best road to publication.
Of the many tips offered these stood out to me: 1.Write in Active Voice   2. Have a Fixed POV (Point Of View)    3. No Author Intrusion (Stay out of your story)   4. Show, Don’t Tell   5. Limited Use of Adverbs. (Limited to use in dialogue not in exposition.) Some of these concepts are foreign to new writers. They take copious notes, read anything they can find on the subjects. At home they are determined to write their story or rewrite their existing novel to the accepted standards.
Later, after a lot of hard work, a writer will submit their work to a publishers. Five or six months later they receive a curt rejection note with no explanation.  They then start over submitting their novel to another publisher or agent, only to wait another five or six months to get rejected. An added note, many of the manuscripts submitted in any given year are terrible at best and warrant a rejection. Some, however, are never really given a fair shake. Legally Blonde is a good example. Turned down by most publishers as too frivolous, it became a self-published novel. The author, through perseverance,  brought it to the attention of Hollywood, and became a film with a sequel.
So where does publishers Do As We Say, Not As We Do, come in? Go to any book store and pick up a book written by an established author with a following, with a copyright/first print date after 2001 up to the present. Once you understand the concept of Write in Active VoiceHave a Fixed POVNo Author IntrusionShow, Don’t Tell, and Limited Use of Adverbs, you will see how the rules fall away for the publishers’ money makers.
Take for example the novel Frozen Heat, by Richard Castle, ghost written by an unknown author.
I too am a huge Castle TV show fan, but I have to disagree with many of the reviewers. I looked forward to reading any of the Niki Heat novels. I picked up Frozen Heat, read the first chapter and a half, and close the book. Whoever the writer is, may be sticking to the show’s formula, but the complete overuse of adverbs kept throwing me out of the story.
“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” Stephen King.
While I can read and enjoy novels written before publishers made a big deal of the "Show, Don't Tell." standard, and limited use of adverbs. This book falls way short of either of those standards. Publishers reject a new writer's manuscript if it contains lot of tell and uses too many adverbs, yet in the first 13 pages the 15 adverbs used, are unnecessary. (I'm not counting the ones used in dialogue. Those are fine.) For example, on page 4 line 8, the ride in the elevator. "-. . . is back against the wall then SUDDENLY hers.” The use of the word 'suddenly' is ambiguous.
Anton Chekhov said, “Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
How did Niki's back wind up against the elevator wall? Did she pulled Rook in front of her, or did Rook twist her into that position for more control? Those actions would have painted a much better picture of the scene. On the same page, line 16. "He appeared at the door COMPLETLY naked." Use of the word 'completely' is redundant. If you're naked, you're without any cloths. Your nakedness is complete. This continues throughout the book. For me what was an anticipated read turned into a big disappointment.
One more noteworthy misuse of adverbs. On page 12, 2nd paragraph 5th line. "SLOWLY, METHODICALLY she ran the beam of her flashlight from right to left along the bottom edge of the case." Starting a sentence with an adverb is bad enough. Two in a row, please! Whoever the writer is, go take a creative writing class and reread the quotes above by Stephen King and Anton Chekhov. I gave this book one star because I had to give it something.
This is what Twain had to say about adverbs. 
“I am dead to adverbs; they cannot excite me. To misplace an adverb is a thing which I am able to do with frozen indifference; it can never give me a pang. ... There are subtleties which I cannot master at all--they confuse me, they mean absolutely nothing to me--and this adverb plague is one of them. ... Yes, there are things which we cannot learn, and there is no use in fretting about it. I cannot learn adverbs; and what is more I won't.”

Pick up any established writer, say Patterson for example, and you will find violation of many, if not all, of the above standards. Why? Once an author is established, he or she becomes lazy. Their publishers require them to crank out a number of novels per year. Publishers want to get another book out for cash flow and profits, so the editors let a lot go, if they edit at all. Because the author has an audience, their fans are going to buy and read a new book simply because it’s their favorite author.
When a book falls short of a publishers own self-proclaimed standards, fans and the so-called major reviewers should complain.  By offering bad reviews, we tell publishers  their established authors should have to conform to the same rules publishers expect new writes to follow. We of the reading public would be treated to stories with more depth and impact, instead of publishers’ hypocrisy along with author and editor laziness. If publishers will live up to their own standards, the bottom line will follow.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Your Book Cover

The popular idiom is "Don’t judge a book by its cover," might be true in an idealistic sense, but it usually refers to judging people by their appearance.

There is a reality for publishers and the book industry in general. For the vast majority of readers the cover of a book is a deciding factor in not only whether or not they should buy the book, but if they will enjoy it as well.

There are literally millions of books for a reader to choose from, Your cover is the first "sales pitch" so to speak. If it doesn’t catch a buyer’s eye, their imagination, or their attention, he or she will pass it over in favor of a book with more appeal on either side.

Text and Font If the title is not clear enough to read from a distance, or when it becomes a thumbnail image online, then a great sounding title will be lost on a potential customer. Your font is critical. If it’s sloppy, illegible, unappealing, or just unprofessional, such as the overly-used, you could even say abused fonts of, Comic Sans or Papyrus, it will immediately turn off most readers.

Not only is your cover a billboard for the book, it is in a sense, the first page of your story. The graphic chosen can communicate, at a quick glance, the style and mood of the tale inside. A dark cover, with lots of shadow, can suggest a danger or even horror. A bright white cover with clouds could suggest a motivational text book. Why is this important. It speaks to the emotions of the reader, engaging them on a deeper level, and thus potentially not only securing a book sale. A sale sets the stage for whether or not any reader will like the book in the first place.

A cover can also create preconceptions in a reader’s mind about what the characters or the setting look like. It is debatable whether or not this is a good thing, as the cover design may not match the author or reader’s ideas, but it could act as a visual aid where necessary. Romance and erotica obviously make good use of this fact with appealing models on the front cover, enticing readers as much as they might entice each other as characters in the story.

A reader first assurance that the book is of a high quality, is a well-designed cover. The cover can scare away a customer or lure them in. Bad covers, with pixelated images, watermarks clearly visible, text badly formatted or aligned, and so forth, suggest to the reader that the interior of the book will be equally sloppy.

A poorly designed cover, creates preconceptions in the mind of the reader, setting them in "critical" mode instead of "enjoyment" mode. With their attention already drawn to errors and sloppiness, they will more easily spot mistakes in the text, and might even go looking for them. They are also likely to be less forgiving of typos than they would of what appears to be a more professional work.

The importance of cover design Big publishers to come up with different covers for different markets, catering to the unique culture of each region. Design principles are not the same the whole world over, leading to, for example, simpler designs on many UK covers, with more frequent use of negative space, and more detailed designs on US covers that cram in more imagery, potentially speaking to different cultural perceptions of "value for money."

Thanks to different meanings of words in different countries, titles on covers can also change. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, is a classic example of this. The book was renamed Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in the United States. The word "Philosopher" does not have the same connotations with magic here as it does in the England. The artwork also changed, helping reinforce the magical themes of the book. The font itself became much more mystical, ending up being the form was not only for the books, but employed for the movies as well.

Great cover designs needs to draw the reader’s attention, engage them on an emotional level, suggest the tone and style of the work, and showcase the quality of the book itself, all the while taking into consideration the potential cultural expectations of the reader. This is a monumental task, without doubt, but one that could be a deciding factor in making a book a best-seller.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Adverb crutch.

Amateur writers wind up succumbing to at least one major pitfall, the use of adverbs in dialogue tags.  Adverbs are those pesky –ly words that modify verbs.

For example:

happily replied.

said angrily.

quickly asked.

pensively said.

In fiction, adverbs tend to weaken your writing. The general rule for fiction of any genre is to eliminate as many adverbs as possible, replacing them with stronger, more specific words.

What do we do with adverbs. (In a perfect world they would cease to exist.). With dialogue, you cannot just replace the adverb. An adverb in a dialogue tag means, in most cases,  you’ll need to rewrite the dialogue itself.

Here’s why:

Amateur writers (but not limited to them) often rely on adverbs in a dialogue tag to convey emotion and tone. That is wrong. A good writer will make that happen in the dialogue itself, and will not rely on the dialogue tag.

For example:

“I've had enough of this,” Karnic shouted angrily.

This tell us Karnic is angry. But that emotion isn't demonstrated through his actions or the dialogue itself.

Remember, dialogue tags have one purpose, to tell the reader who is speaking. Readers read right over them. I you want your reader to feel Karnis’s anger, you have to show them–through the dialogue itself.

Here’s how you might accomplish that:

“You disgust me. This conversation is over,” said Karnic.

Karnic’s dialogue is stronger and his emotion is clear.  Kaenic’s words are angry, so you don’t need to rely on the adverb angrily to convey that.

Including some brief actions or descriptions to eliminate the adverb and convey the character’s emotion brings more depth to your story and power to a scene.

For example:

Kaenic shoved his chair back and slammed his fist on the table. “I've had enough!” He clenched his jaw. “This discussion is over.”

The actions and description here help show how Kaenic feels, eliminating the use of the word angrily from the dialogue tag.

Here’s what you don’t want to do, however:

“I've had enough,” Kaenic said, angry.

This replaces the adverb, but we still have the same basic problem: You are telling the reader  instead of letting the reader feel the characters emotions through their actions. Don’t be fooled into thinking you’re all set just because you don’t have one of those pesky –ly word in there.

Adverbs become crutches, even for accomplished writers.  They're lazy writing and a huge red flag for agents and editors.

Here’s how good way to test your writing. Read your dialogue out loud without any dialogue tags. If the lines of dialogue by themselves don’t convey the emotion you’re trying todraw from your readers, that means you're relying on adverbs and your dialogue needs to be rewritten.

Every Rule has An Exception

Of course, there’s alaway an exception every rule. Here’s the one for adverbs in dialogue tags (though a good editor will flag it and ask you to rework the sentence.). If the tone or emotion of the dialogue is confusing or unclear to the reader, you might use an adverb in a dialogue tag. This strategy is most often used when the character speaks sarcastically or ironically, jokes, or struggles to be polite.

For example, consider this piece of dialogue:

“Maybe I should come upstairs for awhile,” Martin said.

“No, thank you,” Alicia said.

Let’s assume your protagonist is at the end of an awful first date, when he suggests he should come upstairs with her. He reply of,  “No, thank you.” could be taken many ways. So in this case the “No, thank you.” doesn't tell us much, of Alicia’s emotional or mental state, does it? We’d have to assume she’s politely declining. But what if the same line of dialogue were rewritten as the example below?

 “No, thank you,” she said emphatically.

Now the reader gets there’s force behind her words, she's making sure he doesn't come upstairs.

The adverb makes her tone clearer even though her words are exactly the same.
As I said. There are other ways so as to eliminate the adverb.

“No-thank-you!” she said, then turned and stabbed the elevator call button with her index finger.

Linking the words with a dashes and using the exclamation point add emotion to the sentence. The action of turning and stabbing the call button shows frustration, anger, etc.

Bottom Line

You want to use adverbs as sparingly as possible. In general, it’s better to use stronger, more descriptions and specific words to move your readers and fans.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The MacKenna Saga Book Progress

After a long uphill battle I published  Dreams and Deceptions, the first book in my series The MacKenna Saga. Then NewLink Publishing was taken over by Mystic Publishers Inc.. NewLink Publishing became a Imprint of the parent company. My book was reviewed by the staff and they requested I bring the writing up to their Standards. ( See Post Publishing Hypocrisy). I spent the next few month in a rewrite and the second edition of Dreams and Deceptions, came out in April of this year,

Book two Plots and Prophecies is in final edit and is due for release in November in time for Christmas. It picks up right were the cliff hanger ending in Dreams and Deceptions, left off

Book three tentatively titled Retribution is completed and will go in to editing later this year.

Book four is complete. Book five is 35% complete and book six is 20 % complete.

You can find Dreams and Deceptions in the following places:

Authors Page

Amazon Dreams and Deceptions Book Page:


Evaluating My Hook (By Jo A Wilkins)

As an author and a publisher, I have seen some bad openings to novels and short stories alike. Most new authors seem to think that they must tell you every detail of background that pertains to the story at the beginning. When an author dares to start his/her story with backstory the reader yawns and thinks to himself, Do I have to read all this? When will the story start? Most of the time they never get past those first five or six pages.

When (in 2001) my co-author, R.R. Draude and I had trouble getting anyone to take our first book seriously, we fell into an opportunity of having a book doctor, William Greenleaf, evaluate our work.  His first comment, after complimenting out story and character development, was to tell us to throw away the first three chapters of our book because they were all backstory.
After I picked myself up off the floor, he handed us a twenty-eight page evaluation of the book. We told him there were key plot points in those first chapters. He said that we should go through the chapters and underline all the portions that were necessary for the plot of the story. We should then incorporate those plot points into the story throughout the book. We went away with his suggestions and rewrote our book.
Through this experience and through talking with agents and other publishers at writer’s conferences over the years I came up with the following handout – Evaluating My Hook.
Jo A. Wilkins, CEO and Director of Acquisitions at Mystic Publishers, Inc

Evaluating My Hook
Does your story start in the right place?  Do you hook the reader for the genre you write?
If you contrive an opening meant to grab the reader, but it does not stay true to the genre of your story, you must start again. Avoid backstory at the opening of your book; it brings a yawn, not curiosity, to the readers mind.
The correct hook for any story must fulfill the following requirements:
  1. Openings must grab the reader and draw them into your story.
  2. Start at a life-changing moment for your main character.
  3.       A detective in a mystery may stumble on the body of his client in a mystery.
  4.  A woman may throw a vase of Roses from the wrong man across the room in a love story.
  5. It must introduce the main character as someone the reader will like, sympathize with, and/or care about.
  6. Set your story from a fixed POV character.
  7.  A frightened young woman walking up to a castle and her new job as a governess.
  8. Who is she?
  9. How does she feel about this new job?
  10. Why has she taken this job?
  11.  A man, running for his life from his killer or the person who wants to take his family from him.
  12. Who is he?
  13. Why is the antagonist chasing him?
  14. What will he do about it?
  15. You must let the reader feel the mood of the chapter.
  16. Every opening chapter must set a mood for the rest of the story.
  17. The opening battle in space that starts Star Wars.
  18. The creepy house rising from the fog in Fall of the House of Ushers.
iii.  A confused young boy pretending to be asleep, listening to his mother discuss his situation with her mentor in Dune.
  1. This is the time for the author to set his voice for the reader.
  2. Be true to the story you want to tell, and how you want to tell it.
  3. Your opening must set the place where your story takes place.
  4. Help your readers envision the surroundings.
  5. Remember that your setting should be equal in importance to your characters.
  6. What would Gone With The Wind be without Tata or Atlanta?
  7. Stay true to your genre.
  8. Don’t start a science fiction story with a love scene.
  9.   Introduce the story with the appropriate action that defines the type of story the readers will find surrounding your plot.
  10. Satisfy your readers.
  11. Your ending is just as important as your beginning.
  12.   Know your ending before you begin.
  13.  You can’t hit a target if you can’t see it.
iii.  Are you planning a linear or circular ending?

Writing a novel is not much different that journalism.  Remember to set-up for the reader the Who of your story, the What he is doing, the When it takes place, the Where it takes place, the Why it happened and Why they should care. It all has an impact.  If you forget any one of these key ingredients, your reader may not go past the first page of your story.

Monday, June 22, 2015

5 Senses—How to Invoke Them In Your Writing (Denice Whitmore)

This piece is from mt editor at NewLink Publishing

We all use description in our writing. We describe characters and settings, actions and reactions. Most of what we write is description of some sort. By using the 5 senses, we can broaden our descriptions from a list of attributes to an experience for our readers.

Touch—How do you describe touch? The word feel/felt is passive so how can we describe how something feels without using that word? Let’s think of some words that describe something that you’ve touched.
Silky, smooth, rough, scaly, sticky, slimy, hard, soft, ribbed, slick, grainy slippery…you get the idea.
It’s not the adjectives themselves but how they are woven into the nouns, verbs and phrases that will truly help a reader know how an unfamiliar, or even familiar, object feels. Let’s have an example.

He ran his hand through her _______ hair.
A little cliché, I know. But what if we didn’t go with the obvious choice? What if we chose sticky? This would have a huge impact on his reaction.
He ran his hand through her sticky hair. He stared at his fingers, squishing them together. The skin peeling apart from top to bottom and then he did it again, fascinated at the suction the sugary substance caused.
We’ve all experienced that as kids and, while unexpected here, we get a clear picture of how sticky feels.
Smell—We all know what things smell like. Describing the actual smell without using comparisons can be a challenge. Let’s think of some words that describe smells.
Foul, sweet, burning, smoky, pungent, fruity, rancid, decayed, fresh, stale, dusty, minty, woody, earthy, sweaty, musty, dank.
How would you describe fresh cut grass? Or, the smell of baking bread? How about the smell of a dirty diaper? These are all things we have smelled before but putting words to a description can be hard. A lot of times we rely on common experience of the readers to fill in the blanks. When we write things like, fresh cut grass, or the smell of baking bread, or even dirty diaper, they definitely evoke something in each of us. But because everyone’s experiences are different, what they think of will not be the same as what the writer intended.
Scent also has the strongest connection to memory. Who hasn’t walked into the house while cookies were baking and thought of visits to Grandma’s or baking with Mom? But we can’t just rely on ‘tells’ and the readers experience to describe scent. As an exercise, try using adjectives to describe the following. Some may be harder that you think. If you come up with a good one, share it in the comments.
  • Fresh cut grass
  • Baking bread
  • A garden/your favorite flowers
  • Two-week-old leftovers in the fridge
Taste—How would you describe the taste of salt to someone who has never eaten it? Not as easy as it sounds, is it? Especially since we use ‘salty’ as an adjective. So, on to the list of taste words.
Salty, sweet, sour, sweet and sour, savory, rich, tangy, bitter, bittersweet, fruity, starchy, flavorful, raspberry(or all the fruit flavors), mild, spicy.
When writing about taste, your goal should be to evoke the memory of a specific taste in your reader by giving the description of the item and the characters reaction to it.
She loaded the chip with salsa. Opening wide, she crunched down and chewed rolling the tomatoes, peppers and lime flavors around in her mouth. She smiled at her date, but then her eyes watered and she gasped for air. She swallowed the mouthful and the heat slid down to her stomach. Drawing in a deep breath, she plunged her head into the punch bowl, cooling the burn with huge gulps of the sweet, fruity drink.

Or how about the taste of ice cream?
He slid his tongue over the cold scoop on the cone. Flecks of bittersweet chocolate mingled with the sugary cream. He closed his eyes savoring the mix of flavors.
Draw on your personal experiences and sensations to help the readers identify and make their mouth’s water.
Hearing—Sounds are important to our lives. If you describe a setting and leave out the sounds you haven’t given the reader a complete picture. Would you describe a carnival without the barker yelling, the music of the merry-go-round floating on the breeze, a bell ringing and people cheering as someone wins a prize, and let’s not forget the shrieks of the daring souls brave enough to ride the roller coaster. These all add to the setting.
But sometimes we can use sound to convey action.
Pop! Pop! Pop! He ducked, bullets peppering the wall above his head.
This is called onomatopoeia. These words imitate the natural sound of things. Think of them as sound effects for writers. Here are some examples of onomatopoeia.
Boom, crash, pop, splash, drip, plop, warble, whoosh, croak, whistle, giggle, growl, bawl, clang, clap, clink, slap, thud, buzz, chirp, meow, moo.
These words mimic the sound they describe. They are often found at the beginning of a sentence and signify the sounds themselves. They can also heighten the tension or surprise the reader as in the example above. So don’t forget the sound of your setting for a complete picture.
Sight—Last of all is sight. As writers, we are used to describing the visual aspects of our characters and setting. But we have to remember to make them part of the story and not just a laundry list of description. Here’s an example.
He was tall, about six feet. He had blond hair and blue eyes. He wore blue jeans and a black t-shirt.
Pretty boring, right? Now let’s make it part of the story.
I looked up into his face when the gun cocked. The boy’s blue eyes shifted around the alley. Switching the gun to his left hand he wiped his palm on his tight, black t-shirt. He turned and ran away, his messy blond hair blowing in the wind.
Making the details part of the action makes it more interesting for the reader.
Using color can be tricky. Ally Condie stands out to me as someone who has mastered the use of color in her writing. Here are the first few paragraphs of her book Matched.
Now that I’ve found the way to fly, which direction should I go into the night? My wings aren’t white or feathered; they’re green, made of green silk, which shudders in the wind and bends when I move—first in a circle, then in a line, finally in a shape of my own invention. The black behind me doesn’t worry me; neither do the stars ahead.
I smile at myself, at the foolishness of my imagination. People cannot fly, though before the Society, there were myths about those who could. I saw a painting of one of them once. White wings, blue sky, gold circles above their heads, eyes turned up in surprise as though they couldn’t believe what the artist had painted them doing, couldn’t believe that their feet didn’t touch the ground.
Those stories weren’t true. I know that. But tonight it’s easy to forget.
She uses color seven different times in that passage alone. Never once did she ‘tell’ us something about the color. She didn’t tell us her dress was green or the night was black or even that the painting was of angels. She ‘showed’ us the thoughts of her POV character and worked the color in. So let us find better ways of using sight in our writing to make it vivid.
By employing all the senses in our writing, we don’t just tell our readers a story, we let them share in the experience of our characters. We can evoke emotion and memory. We can create well-rounded settings and vivid, colorful pictures. So go forth and try something new. Expand your descriptions to artistry.
Keep writing.