Reading Activists's writer in residence, Andrew Hammond, tells us about and gives advice on making sense of writing:
As a species, we haven't survived this long on the planet by being good at maths or verbal reasoning alone. Thinking rationally or logically is not the only thing that makes us human.
We've lasted this long by being perceptive, reactionary, opportunistic, cautious, inventive, imaginative, empathetic and above all... using our senses. And the more I think about it, the more I realise we have hundreds of those.
Think about it. You get a sense there's been an argument in the room just before you entered it; you can almost touch the atmosphere. Or that sense of foreboding when you know something is about to happen; you can feel it. Or when you know your best friend is troubled, even though they haven't said anything to you. Or when you pick up the phone to call your mother and this voice says, 'But I've just called you.' Or your sense of spatial awareness, or fear, or excitement, or intrigue, or nosiness, or greed, or jealousy, or dread...
And then there's what we sometimes call our ESP (extra sensory perception). Usually this just means 'all the other senses we can't explain' but in the case of the ghost hunters in my CRYPT _books, this means their ability to communicate at a paranormal level. _CRYPT agents often 'hypersense' which means connecting with a ghost so closely that it seems the agent is there, in the past, in the place and time when the ghost really lived. It's a weird experience.
You'll have heard the phrase 'appealing to your readers' senses'. Well that doesn't just mean telling them what someone or somewhere looks like. It means describing the atmosphere - how does it feel to be there? How do your characters feel? How does the reader feel when they're reading it?
A lot of people ask me how I manage to make my stories gripping. It's because I think - all the time - about those other senses we have. So I write to scare, excite, baffle and intrigue. I don't just say what a ghost looks or sounds like. A scary place can assault your senses in so many more ways than that.
So here's a tip: when you write, consider for a moment how your characters are connecting with their surroundings. How is the atmosphere seeping into them. Is it in their head? Or their belly or their heart or their chest? Or is it felt through a sweatiness in their palms? Or does it make them glance over their shoulder because they're sure someone - or something - is looking at them? Or do they get a sense that something awful is just about to happen?
Mind reading, fortune telling, hypersensing, ESP, call it what you will but I just call it being human. And that's good news for writers like us. It opens up so many more possibilities for the way we describe things. And with so many senses at our disposable, you'll never get writer's block: if you're in an English exam and you have to write a story and you can't think of anything, and your mind goes blank and says 'game over', how does that make you feel? Scared? Nervous? Terrified? Well, write about that then.
Appealing to your readers' senses is great fun, but it can be tiring too. At least I find it tiring. Every time a character in my story feels something, I feel it too. Every time they get scared or angry or confused or excited, I feel it too - and then I write about it.
It's a wonder I manage to write at all with all these feelings floating around.
But it all kind of makes sense. Don't you think?
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