What Does It Look, Sound, and Feel Like?

RespectThis graphic featured on Rosemary D’Amato Karas’s Pinterest site caught my eye. It looks like this list originated as a brainstorming exercise to teach students what respect is and how to show it. I’m sure it worked well for that purpose.

I saw something else too – a dandy exercise to prepare to “show” respect in your writing rather than “telling” about it.

For example, a first draft may include the line, “He didn’t show me any respect” without going into any detail or telling you what that means in this particular situation.

Perhaps on the second draft you might write, “He kept interrupting me and answered his phone three times while I was trying to talk to him. I finally asked him if he was listening, and he snarled ‘What do you think?’ He had no respect at all!”  

You may notice that I turned the list inside out in that example and wrote about the lack of respect. That’s the neat thing about exploring a concept like respect. You can use opposites. For example, interrupting is the opposite of people waiting their turn, and snarling is the opposite of being kind.

This list is similar to sensory awareness exercises I use with students in my class, Writing With Seven Senses. In addition to asking what something looks like and sounds like, you ask what it feels like – tactually and/or emotionally, what it tastes and smells like, and what general sense you have of it. Perhaps you’ll even explore what it reminds you of as you search for metaphors.

It’s rare that you make a list that includes elements of each and every sense. I admit that I’m drawing a blank for the literal taste and smell of respect, but my sense of it is that it’s sweet, rather like success. Likewise, I can’t think what it would feel like to rub my hands over respect. It’s probably smooth, maybe satiny. Emotionally respect feels warm and fuzzy, to use the vernacular of the seventies. When I receive respect I feel slightly larger, stronger, wiser and it’s easier to be my own best self.

These steps will help you enliven your stories with more showing and less telling:

  • Look for sentences like the one in the first example where you use one-size-fits-all words like respect.

  • Use the list of senses: looks like, sounds like, feels like (tactually and/or emotionally), smells like, tastes like, and general sense of. Jot down thoughts about how each of these dimensions fits that concept or thing.
  • Ponder what this concept or thing reminds you of.
  • Use your expanded awareness to flesh out the bone of your draft and convey your memory and sense of the situation to your reader.

These suggestions will jumpstart your creativity, and pull your reader into the scene with you. Your writing will take on the pungency of wild roses in May.

Write now: write a new draft or pull out an old one. Find a concept or two like “respect” and jot down an analysis similar to the one in the illustration, but add the additional senses. Use these thoughts to expand your description, transforming “telling” into “showing.”


SuziCate said...

This is excellent. Not sure how it might smell either, but perhaps it feels like one of those sure, strong, solid, handshakes rather than one of those floppy mean nothing ones.

Sharon Lippincott said...

Yes! That "feels" right. Neat example.

kathleen pooler said...

Sharon, I can never get enough reminders about "showing not telling." When I stand still long enough to take in what is around me with all my senses at any given moment, I can transfer that to my writing. Taste is always a challenge. Right now I'm looking out from my writing space at the green leaves shimmering and swaying in the late afternoon sunlight. The scent of newly-mown grass accompanies the gentle,warm breezes through the open window,caressing my arms and face. The harsh caw of a crow breaks the silence of my mid-Sunday musing adding a little spice to nature's sweetness. OK, I got carried away but it does take concentration and focus to include all the senses. Thanks for the prompt!

Sharon Lippincott said...

Love the fleeting visit to your world Kathleen. I share your quandry about vivid taste description. It's N ongoing challenge to come up with something more imaginative than salty,sweet, etc.

Barbara said...

Hi! Just thought I'd mention that's my poster:). You're right. It was generated after a brainstorming session.


Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing!