Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Make a Good Story Better

I am part of a website where writers can post their work. It's a site where the level of writing runs from basic beginner to polished professional. Readers can leave comments and a tally is kept of how many hits each posting receives. I read as many of the stories as I have time for, and I  post one now and then, too.

Recently, I read two stories that might be classified as memoir, but they were worlds apart for one simple reason. Story number one told about a move made by the author's family when she was around twelve. It was interesting because she was able to bring out the way of life at that time, the kind of houses and that they'd lived near the railroad tracks. She told about her mother's reaction to the house, the bare light bulb in the middle of the ceiling in every room, and the lack of plumbing.

Story number two was a simple slice of life about ice cream that delved into the author's boyhood and then into the period he had small children and up to today when he shares the treat with grandchildren. Again, it held my interest.

But the two stories were worlds apart in one particular way. The first one lacked sensory details. The writer reported what happened. If she'd used sensory details, she'd have brought us tumbling back through the years to experience the whole episode with her. Living near the railroad tracks allowed for using the sense of sound. Think of those long, low train whistles, or the clack of wheels on the tracks. Then, there's the special smell of the old trains. The house she describes could have been brought to life by illustrating the sense of touch--perhaps the worn smooth doorknob, or the rough, warped front door.

The second writer filled his story with sensory detail. He had me licking my lips as he described eating the ice cream. And I don't even like ice cream! Because of the extra element of using the senses in his writing, his story came alive. It allowed the reader to live it with him.

Pay close attention to sensory detail in your writing. It can make a good story better.

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