Writing Advice: Make Sure You Feel It

6 04 2023

dreamy woman filling diary in light room
I woke up this morning to her sitting and looking at me. She won’t move. She doesn’t breathe.
Photo by George Milton on Pexels.com

A writer is supposed to make their mother uncomfortable, yes. But the writer is also supposed to be uncomfortable. Two events reinforced this recently.

I just joined an online workshop for horror writers as a student. The workshop has the standard format in that the students send in a story and everyone provides a critique. It’s the first time in years I’ve seen the work of beginning writers. It reminded me of my earlier work.

Mistaking the conflict for the ending. Groping for a style instead of plot. Most of all, cinematic descriptions of scene. That is, visual and auditory senses only, but also use of senses to invoke a feeling. This last bit is tricky and I have much to learn here.

Imagine a swamp. Spanish moss hanging from willow trees. Brackish water concealing secrets. Reeds grown rampant. Calls of birds in trees. Pretty standard. I wrote scenes like this plenty of times. My friends taught me that other senses pull the reader in farther. A stink like mulch. Humidity laying like a hot wet blanket. The creep on your scalp of sweat and gnats. Drag of mud sucking at your boots. You get the idea.

What I’m starting to learn starts with that “Brackish water concealing secrets”, that is, using description to convey tone. Using those words like stink and suck and creep to create a richer scene.

If I want to create a mood, I need to use elements that invoke that mood in me. Note that “scalp” line: I’m bald, so sweat and bugs on my head really relates. I hate the outdoors, really, for the reason of mud sucking at things, so I thought to use that. Note that I could go deeper and go “slimy mud sucking at my low-top boots” and man writing that just icked me the heck out.

So this is what I am learning, in part thanks to this writing group prompting me to up my game. Also, I am helping out a new writer who had asked my advice. He is developing his magic style (I’m avoiding saying ‘magic system’ because magic needs to be mysterious. An AD&D detail level of understandability takes away from the magic’s drama, I think.

Anyway, the writer wanted ideas as to what price a magician should pay for overuse.

“As far as character limitations, I’m assuming you mean the toll Magic takes on a character.

If so, make a list of things that make you queasy. For me, that would be dementia, cockroaches, physical paralysis, shit and piss, parasitism, chronic pain, skin disfigurements.

I can imagine too much magic, too exhausting magic, doing: causing dementia, generating parasites under the skin, renal failure (*makes you sweat urine*), intestinal failure, neuropathy, gnarly skin diseases. I could even push each icky thing past known science, like with the spontaneous parasite thing.

The limitations could even be idiopathic, or specific icks to specific individuals. 

It HAS to be a limitation that you as a person finds distasteful. The distaste will come through in your writing. If you are uncomfortable, your reader will be uncomfortable. You as the writer has to feel in order for the reader to feel.”

So, make yourself uncomfortable. And keep learning.



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