Words, words, words… I have a love affair with words. I am a word collector. I even keep a leather bound word journal. When I am reading, I will stop as I come across a word or a phrase I especially enjoy. I will pause, turn around and go back, rereading the words slowly as I mull them over in my mouth, feeling the texture of the words as I express them audibly. Then, so as not to forget the sensual experience of these beautifully crafted words, I carefully write them in my journal, noting where I gathered them so that forever I can return to experience their pleasure once again.
As a writer, I often have vivid scenarios play out within my mind, so real and detailed, I actually view myself within the scene, watching intently as the action unfolds before my eyes. The question is how I, as a writer, relay to the reader the striking images of my vision. I find that authors often miss out on great opportunities to fully express their imaginative conceptions. They assume the reader sees what they perceive. But if one is not careful, details are missed as the author fails to deliver an adequate description of all that is within the folds of their mind.
We must never assume that the reader can see into our thoughts. Words are the key. It is said, the genius is in the detail. Nothing should be left unsaid. As I view a scene within my mind’s eye, I look all around and ask myself: what do I see? What do I hear? What do I smell? Then I painstakingly transcribe each detail into information for my audience, written in just the right way so they can be caught up into the action with me. I say painstaking; for that is the way it is for me when I write. I have spent two weeks writing one paragraph, thinking, ingesting, researching, for just the right words so that the images flow as a leaf upon a fair breeze. I do not just tell the reader what I see, or hear, or smell. The way I write, the words I choose, the order in which I place the words, are just as important as what I write.
Below is an example. I could say this:
Nagad stood upon the rise, looking over the land before him. The rolling hills were covered with flowers that waved in the breeze. The morning air was fresh and new, bringing to mind visions from the past.
Or I could say:
Dominating the landscape, across the undulating ground, Nagad beheld various shades of yellow and crimson, short-lived flowers of summer, fluttering in the soft morning breeze. The smell of spring, of the uncertain glory, hung in the air, a variant wave of freshness faintly perceived, coming with the distant scent of apples wafting up from the golden blooms of the crown daisy. Breathing in the smell of the field, the green lap of the vernal season beckoned from sleep and issued forth a flood of memories of youth and peaceful times, of white linen robes and youthful love, and the soft laughter of a virgin.
(excerpt from The Stone of Ebenezer, Trilogy of Kings)
Clearly, how a scene is written is so much more than the delivery of information. Not only do I want to describe my characters, my scenes, I want them to come to life, to jump off the page. I desire my reader to have a visceral reaction to all that is transpiring within the words on the page. They should experience the story as a member of the action, not a passive observer, but an integral part of the story. The narrative should flow off the page without difficulty. The story line should be easy to follow; the burden of the saga should be on the author, and not the reader.
So then, go forth and read. But not only read, study how the words are composed. What makes the author’s words come alive?
Susan Van Volkenburgh