Novel Girls: Space and Senses

13 Sep

I love talking about writing with my friends, it helps me think of what will make me a better writer!  This week, only Nicole and I were able to make it to our Thursday night get-together.  I shared the next ten pages of my rough draft and Nicole shared a revision she wrote of the third chapter of her WIP.  This week, we came across two topics worth blogging about, and the second one is a doozy!

  1. Spatial Relations: When you’re writing a scene, your writer’s head is so deep into the scene that you can see your characters and you watch them move within that scene.  It can be hard to translate that image to words sometimes.  Nicole and I both had some little problems with spatial relations this week.  Nicole’s scene had two characters entering a room together.  A few sentences later, one of them was calling from across the room.  I was confused as to when he had moved across (a quick one-sentence-fix).  Later in that scene, the character I still saw as near the door was picking at crumbs on a tablecloth and I was lost as to where the table was located in the apartment.
    We’ve been working on each other’s stories for so long that I’d developed a mental picture of Nicole’s apartment setting and I moved the characters to the correct locations in my mental picture without needing movement words to take them there.  However, the first-time reader might not have as strong of a visual of the apartment and the scene would flow more smoothly with a few sentences like “Male character crossed the room to grab a water bottle from the kitchen,” or “Female character sat down at the folding table the girls used as a sad excuse for a kitchen table.”
    Nicole found a big flaw in my use of spatial relations as well.  I have a scene when my female protagonist is sneaking out of the house to meet a friend on the street in front of the house.  Nicole was confused reading the passage as to how she would sneak out with no one seeing.  I drew a quick picture of the house as I imagined it and she was right, the protagonist would be walking right in front of the window to the dining room where her entire family was eating dinner.  Not very stealthy.
    So, to combat this, I have two options.  One is for me to have her take a different path out of the house or meet the friend somewhere else, a simple fix.  The other (much more complicated but the better solution) is to re-design the house and the way I view it.  She would still be in the line of sight when leaving the house and that’s a risk she wouldn’t take.  It’s a bigger fix than I imagined.
  2. Senses: This discussion was really twofold, the first in Nicole’s WIP and the second in mine.
    1. Senses defined by narrator: Nicole’s re-write of her third chapter involved changing a scene to a different character’s POV.  It was done well, but there was one line that threw me off.  So, in this scene, Character A is in a room when Character B wakes up.  The line that threw me off was that Character B saw XXX when she woke up, but Character A is narrating.  Character A would have had no way to know what Character B was seeing.  (Again, easy fix, “Character A eyed the XXX in front of her warily…”)  This brings out a good point that to stay strong in one POV, all sensory perception of other characters have to be removed.  They can report on any physical action taken as a result of sensory perception (his nose wrinkled at the bad smell…. she cringed at the loud whistle…) but can’t report on that sense.  Good point to check if you’re jumping or changing POVs in a story.
    2. Engage all senses:  One of my weaknesses as a writer is to not engage the senses and this came up again last night.  One of my scenes seemed really flat.  All of Nicole’s suggestions had to do with bringing in a sensory description such as the smell of one character’s perfume or the sound of another’s voice.  This reminds me of a blog post I read by Jools, one the blogs I follow.  She said that in every scene, she forced herself to ask, What else?  What else could be in the scene to make it richer and more vibrant?  I try to ask myself this as I work on my new WIP and as I revise my first.

So there you have it!  Some good advise/ reflection from this week’s Novel Girls.  Was this helpful?  Do you struggle with spatial relations or sensory description?  What do you do to overcome this?  Leave me a comment and let me know!


3 Responses to “Novel Girls: Space and Senses”

  1. Jools September 14, 2013 at 5:07 AM #

    Great post with some useful lessons – and I know I’ve fallen into the traps you mention. Particularly important – and something my mentor pulled me up on more than once – is the issue of staying within the correct POV, not floating off into some other character’s head. One character might be very switched on to the beauty of their surroundings, whilst another is unaware and unappreciative. If you’re in that character’s POV, there’s no point describing the sunset. But instead of simply *not* describing the sunset, perhaps this character might become frustrated at the fading light or aware of the noise from evening customers at bars and restaurants, or aware of the chill rising in the air. There are always opportunities to engage the senses to flesh out individual characters.


    • Sam September 16, 2013 at 2:46 PM #

      What a great way to give characters individual voice! Thanks for the tip, Jools!



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