Friday, March 25, 2011

The Sensuous Story


It's a word that conjures up a constellation of images, ideas, thoughts, memories and feelings. It's a word that describes some of the most powerful moments of life: falling in love, a wedding, the birth of a child, etc.

It's also a word that describes bestselling fiction.

Does it describe your story?

Check out this opening paragraph from Dean Koontz's novel, Frankenstein: Lost Souls:

"The October wind came down from the stars. With the hiss of an artist's airbrush, it seemed to blow the pale moonlight like a mist of paint across the slate roofs of the church and abbey, across the higher windows, and down the limestone walls."

If you're like me, descriptions like that set off explosions of sensory delight in your head. The words expertly draw you into the story through the doorway of your senses.

How to Become a Sensuous Writer

You, too, can write with such poetic magic. Part of Koontz's blockbuster success is owed to his ability to engage the reader's senses.

In that short excerpt above, Koontz managed to activate three of the five senses (i.e. sight, sound, touch, taste and smell).

Sight = stars, airbrush, pale moonlight, mist of paint, slate roof, limestone walls, high windows

Sound = hiss

Touch = blow...across the slate roofs, across the high windows, etc.

You become a sensuous writer by imitating Koontz, by tapping into the senses in every scene of your story. Stephen King has suggested that aspiring writers include three sensory details in each scene to ground readers in the sensory experience of the story.

The Sensory Cheat-Sheet

Sight: colors (yellow, blue, red, green, turquoise, brown, black, white, etc), rough, smooth, flat, bumpy, jagged, rugged, tough, flimsy, tall, short, fat, thin, massive, tiny, twisted, ropey, damaged, bubbly, calm, etc.

Sound: beep, clink, clatter, chirp, bam, bang, clang, chatter, fluid, smooth, jazzy, screech, scream, whisper, melodic, angelic, floating, pop, etc.

Touch: harsh, cold, hot, warm, soft, hard, blow, brush, slam, jam, scrape, scratch, move, deliberate, clumsy, loving, tender, brackish, sexy, spongy, etc.

Smell: moldy, nasty, sweet, gross, delicious, sexy, fresh, overpowering, overwhelming, hint of..., etc

Taste: chewy, soft, hard, slippery, salty, spicy, hot, cold, warm, delicious, gross, sweet, crunchy, stale, etc.

More Tips on Sensuous Writing

1. Use a thesaurus: don't settle for the first word that comes to mind. Be unique and come up with a fresh new way to immerse readers into your story world.
2. Combine two or three senses into a single paragraph, or even a single sentence, as Koontz does in the above excerpt.
3. Spend five minutes a day listening and paying attention to and recording the everyday sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and "touches" around you. Use them in your stories. Take a notebook or recording device with you.
4. Transfer the information on the notebook or recording device to your computer. Create a file of sounds, sights, tastes, etc.
5. Review your "sensory" file often as you write and edit your stories. Your file may spark new and surprising ways to lure readers into the sensory world of your fiction.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The 30-second Commercial Test

Has your novel, book, script, or short story taken the 30-second Commercial test?

If not, don't write another word until you read the rest of this article. It's that important. Bestselling writers know something that other, less successful writers don't: they know how to craft mind-tingling stories that readers crave. They are literary drug dealers selling high moments of fear, love, anger, disgust, tension, horror, jealously, and more.

They know about the 30-Second Commercial test.

Now you will, too.

How to Take The 30-Second Test

1. Have a specific story, book, novel or screenplay in mind.
2. Set a clock or timer for 30 seconds.
3. Start the timer.
4. As fast as you can, write down the big scenes of your story, the one's you would put in a commercial, only the biggest, boldest scenes of the entire work.
5. Stop writing at the end of 30 seconds.

Go ahead and stop and take the test now. Really. Go ahead. I'll wait.

OK, if you took the test, you now have a list of the high moments in your story.

Secrets From the Test

Now let's look at what the test results tell us. Here are a few things to consider from the commercial test experience.

How hard was it to come up with this list? If it was very difficult and you didn't finish in time, that might tell you that you might not have a clear picture of your story. I suggest that you put in some time fleshing out the story, especially the high moments, those scenes that are most memorable, often involving violence, conflict, and love.

How many high points do you have listed? If you have at least ten, you are doing well. If you have less than ten, I strongly encourage you to examine your story with this question in mind: "How can I squeeze more high points into this part of the story?" Often the answer will include adding another layer of conflict, a new twist or obstacle that prevents your main characters from reaching their goals. If you have 20 or more high points, you are either writing an epic fantasy novel or you might be trying to cram too much into one novel. Consider breaking your story into two or three parts and writing a trilogy or series.

*Hint: In the end, each story, and sometimes each genre, dictates the number of high points.

Additional miscellaneous tips about the 30-second Commercial Test

1. Stop and think about the commercials you see on TV (or your computer, smart-phone or other new advancement in technology.
2. Commercials cram as much information, visuals, movement, humor, etc. as possible into the shortest amount of time possible. Seconds equal money.
3.Visualize a commercial or movie trailer for your story. What events are included? those are your high points or major scenes.
4. An additional benefit of taking this test is that now you have an outline of your story, an a good primer for your query letter and synopsis. You might even be able to parlay this information into a back cover blurb or use it on promotional materials in your book marketing.

Enjoy your writing!