Let’s work on those blank canvases, vague verbiage, and using all of our senses today.
1) Picture in your mind (or go to if you can) some place quiet and outdoorsy, such as a city park. As quickly as possible, jot down what you:
- Hear (example: birds singing, dogs barking)
- See (sky, trees, children playing)
- Smell (flowers, wet grass)
- Feel (the wind, relaxed, happy)
- Taste (if you eat anything on your real or imagined trip.)
2) Take each item you jotted down (add mine also if you wish) and, leaving plenty of space, line them up in a single column, one item per line, like this, using my examples:
- Birds singing
- Dogs barking
- Children playing
- Wet Grass
- The wind
3) Now you’re going to describe those items with concrete details, listing multiple possibilities if it might prove useful to you to have them all laid out on a cheat sheet. For my examples, you might ask yourself (and answer):
- What birds are singing? Look up and list all possible words for bird song.
- How many dogs are barking? What size are they? Is it little, yappy barks or deep, booming barks? Both? Happy or mad barks?
- Is the sky cloudy, clear or somewhere in between? What is the position of the sun? Is it dawn, high noon, or near dusk?
- What species of trees? How many? Check a thesaurus and list off all the possibilities if you’ll be using trees a lot.
- What games are the children playing? Ages? Racial make up?
- List some flowers that might be in bloom in your exact setting chosen.
- How wet is the grass? Is it muddy or slippery? Has it been cut recently?
- How hard is the wind blowing? How warm or cold is it? List out all synonyms for wind and all related words (crisp, sharp, gentle, soft)
4) If any emotions made it on your list, describe the general posture assumed when someone is feeling that way, common facial expressions, actions, hand movements, and noises associated with that emotion.
5) Choose a character you already know extremely well and place them in the setting you’ve been brainstorming in this exercise. Give them an objective, or goal for being there (it can be as simple as to pray and meditate or play with their kids or pets for this exercise.) Now, keeping in mind your character’s particular quirks and ways of seeing and putting things, and where their focus would be due to their objective, describe the setting through their eyes, as they seek to fulfill their objective. Since we’re focused on setting, try for something that will lend to them paying attention to their surroundings.
Feel free to share your thoughts on this exercise in the comments. You are welcome to share or use this exercise, with attribution and a link back to me.