How to Dunk Your Reader in the Details (Figuratively)

I’m finishing up converting the workshop I did at Surrey International Writers Conference a month or so ago, Dunking Your Readers in the Details, as an on-demand class. That class was in turn based on an hourlong online writing class I did for Greg Wilson’s Twitch channel a few months ago.

The class has been fun to put together. Over the course of being taught multiple times, it’s evolved to a point where it presents a dozen tools for writing more immersive worlds, and includes several exercises to allow you to test out the different techniques and see what works for you.

Curious about it? Here’s the section on prioritizing the senses.

A common tool of “Golden Age science fiction” — the late 1930s through the 50s, when science fiction was first coming into its own as a genre — was to invoke all five senses within the first page of a story.

It turns out there’s some science behind that method, in that writing that uses the senses creates more brain activity, setting off mirror neurons. Mirror neurons are neurons that fire under two circumstances: when you are experiencing an event and secondly when you are watching someone else experience it. Writing that invokes the senses makes mirror neurons fire, which makes your reader feel as though they’re experiencing what you are describing.

But beyond that, three of the five senses are more useful to you and should be focused on. Sight and sound will come naturally, and we’re inured to them from watching television and the movies. What you need to push to invoke are smell, taste, and most importantly: touch.

Why is the last the most important? Because touch is more than a question of smooth or rough, velvet versus pebbled. It includes:

◦ Temperature like a chilly breeze, the warmth of a sunbeam

◦ Bodily sensations such as pain, nausea, exhaustion, fever, itches

◦ Motion moments like falling, flying, and floating

When you use these senses in your writing, you are making the reader feel as though they are in the body of the point of view character and experiencing the story world through them. This is a key technique when writing an immersive world.

Update: the class is now available here!

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About Cat

Cat Rambo lives, writes, and teaches by the shores of an eagle-haunted lake in the Pacific Northwest. Her 200+ fiction publications include stories in Asimov's, Clarkesworld Magazine, and the magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Her story, "Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain," from her collection Near + Far (Hydra House Books), was a 2012 Nebula nominee. Her editorship of Fantasy Magazine earned her a World Fantasy Award nomination in 2012. She is the current President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). She is currently working on Exiles of Tabat, the third book of the Tabat Quartet. A new story collection, Neither Here Nor There, appears from Hydra House this fall.
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