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Thread: Filling in the senses

  1. #1
    practical experience, FTW srgalactica's Avatar
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    Filling in the senses

    Do you find yourself filling in certain things after the first draft? I seem to write mostly dialogue and descriptions of actions on the first draft, but usually fail to include visual descriptions or other sensory descriptions during the first run through.

    Just wondering if that's normal.

  2. #2
    The Crazy Man in the Sun. Feel me. WillSauger's Avatar
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    To bring out more sensory in the later drafts?

    I think it's up to the writer. I like: If it's not hitting the writer as they first write the scene, maybe it's not needed at all.
    But if you're trying to present a very important, high detail event, fill it in if you missed something.

    Just don't go filling in scents and textures like a mad man. But if the scene needs it, go ahead and fill it in. Let's say, the character walks into a restaurant and is hungry. Maybe if you add in the scene of the food, that can spur his hunger and give a better detail. But to add in the texture of the cement as the character walks, for no reason whatsoever, is too much.
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  3. #3
    They've been very bad, Mr Flibble Mr Flibble's Avatar
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    I do this a fair bit - while some sensory stuff comes as I write the first draft, often I'm concentrating on just getting the story out of me. Second draft is for adding to atmosphere, or realising that actually I've got a couple of talking heads here or I haven't given the reader any clue where my characters are.

    First draft or final draft, as long as the finished product is right, it doesn't matter when you add in necessary* details.


    *ETA: As Will says though, make sure the details add to the experience of the story, and aren't just added willy nilly.




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    Sever your leg please. Canotila's Avatar
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    I write like that. The sensory stuff hits me hard while writing the first draft, but it comes back as strong as ever if I can get the bones of the scene down. The important thing for me is get dialogue and choreography. Once that's there I can revisit at any point and flesh it out however much is needed.

    It's figuring out how much is needed that's the hard part.


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  5. #5
    Let's see what's on special today.. Bufty's Avatar
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    The prevalent and relevant is what's needed.

    If Jim is the POV character he could walk from the church at one end of the village to the blacksmiths at the other end and notice only the smell of fresh bread as he passed the bakery on the corner. Depending upon his frame of mind he may not even notice that.
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  6. #6
    practical experience, FTW Ken's Avatar
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    ... whatever works, really. I rarely delve into the senses. But there's other stuff I add after the first draft. Lots actually. Details can make a difference.

  7. #7
    Soldier, Storyteller Linda Adams's Avatar
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    I have trouble getting enough description in the first draft, and I'm also horrible with details. So I've been playing around with discovery writing in my revision -- writing a separate document of one setting. I do the research for it, put in details, and get all the five senses. Then I can draw on that for the revision of the scenes in question.
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  8. #8
    Horror Man seun's Avatar
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    I add a bit of sensory description in a second draft - just enough to give it some flavour.

  9. #9
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    I am nearly always adding, or more accurately defining, senses and details after the fact. Typically this involves removing the excess, focussing on what really needs to be there, or wasn't quite properly done.

  10. #10
    Cadence of Her Last Breath Ms_Sassypants's Avatar
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    Same here. My first-draft description sucks so I absolutely have to add them in later drafts. And yes, the sensory parts too. I do add sensory descriptions sparsely into the story - just to heighten the story from time to time.

  11. #11
    More cowbell! randi.lee's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by srgalactica View Post
    Do you find yourself filling in certain things after the first draft? I seem to write mostly dialogue and descriptions of actions on the first draft, but usually fail to include visual descriptions or other sensory descriptions during the first run through.

    Just wondering if that's normal.
    Normal for me. I breeze through dialogue during the first draft, then add in all of my "he sighed" and "she smiled" tags later

    In all seriousness, my sensory details do usually fall into place during the second draft.
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  12. #12
    Life isn't all beer and skittles. lemonhead's Avatar
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    No. But I often have to go back and replace the ones I've written with better ones. Sensory (not a lot but some) is really important to me as a reader....I like when I read one or two words of description that bring the entire thing to life.
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  13. #13
    here and there again fadeaccompli's Avatar
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    I've gotten better at putting it in as I go along, but my edits do tend to include sprinkling in some more sensory description. When multiple beta readers across multiple stories tell me that they really wanted a lot more description--and several specify they want more beyond sight and sound--then I figure it's time to listen to them.

    I mean, if I felt strongly about it--"This character would never notice such things!"--then I wouldn't change it. But usually it's just that I find such things a bit harder to describe, so when I'm writing quickly I don't bother to put it in. (And now I'm writing from the perspective of someone with a much better sense of smell than humans, so I need to describe smells constantly. Argh.)

  14. #14
    Life isn't all beer and skittles. lemonhead's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by fadeaccompli View Post
    I've gotten better at putting it in as I go along, but my edits do tend to include sprinkling in some more sensory description. When multiple beta readers across multiple stories tell me that they really wanted a lot more description--and several specify they want more beyond sight and sound--then I figure it's time to listen to them.

    I mean, if I felt strongly about it--"This character would never notice such things!"--then I wouldn't change it. But usually it's just that I find such things a bit harder to describe, so when I'm writing quickly I don't bother to put it in. (And now I'm writing from the perspective of someone with a much better sense of smell than humans, so I need to describe smells constantly. Argh.)

    I think smells are my favorite actually. Someone can describe the beach ad naseuam in a book, and it feels tired and like "yeah, been there done that" but when someone describes the beach in terms of a smell...I'm there!
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  15. #15
    practical experience, FTW
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    I'm not sure it's so much an issue of adding sensory input as defining a lot of things. In my second drafts, I always look for what's missing or, more importantly, what I, as the god, know but have not put on the page for the reader. It's easy to miss what you might have failed to share when you so intimately know the environment, the characters, and their world. As a writer, you have to remind yourself that your readers may not see, hear, know as much of the story as you do and you need to be aware of possible shortfalls in your storytelling.

    So, when it comes to adding sensory perceptions, it is not really unusual to go back on subsequent run-throughs and add a lot of different little 'things'. The caveat here is that, as I always remind novice writers, a little goes a long way. It is not necessary to write down every single sensation your characters experience. You can describe a scene of ... a freshly cut field of hay just after sunrise with a light dew still on the ground and, if done right, the visual sense will inspire the olfactory sense. You can describe the acrid smell of a morgue and, likewise, if done right, your reader will be put in the place visually as well. The best of course, is to interweave the visual, audio, tactile, and olfactory simultaneously as they apply to your story to create a fuller experience for your reader. And, that may take more than just a couple of drafts to get it right.

    The trick is to pick and choose what you really need. I've never met a novice writer who could successfully instill all of the necessary sensory triggers on one go 'round. Hell! I have yet to meet any writer who could get it all right on one pass! There is always going to be something you missed. Some writers are more action oriented and they can nail down the action events in the ms easily and never require a touch up of that part of the story. But they fall a bit short on dialog, or character-building, or ... sensory. Still, another writer may have a strong sense of sensory and are able to lay down a perfect balance of senses on the first try. For others, it may be characterization or dialog that is their strongest suit and they need to go back and work on other parts of the story.

    Whatever is your strong suit, play to that, but be sure you are aware of your weaker areas and do, indeed, go back and work on those in subsequent drafts. Just remember, a little really does go a long way.
    Last edited by TheWordsmith; 11-21-2012 at 09:23 PM.

  16. #16
    Freelance Writer Orianna2000's Avatar
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    It's totally normal. I'm always adding things in that I missed in my first draft. With my first few revisions, instead of reading through and making random changes, I'll try to focus on adjusting just one thing--like dedicating an entire draft just to dialogue, or to the plot, or to description and sensory details.

    When adding detail, you want to use all the senses--not just sight, but sound, scent, flavor, and even the "extra" senses that they don't teach about in school, like temperature sensing, balance, pain, the passage of time, and instinct (the "6th sense"). Adding these in moderation will provide depth to your novel. But like others have mentioned, you don't want to just add random descriptions. Make sure they're relevant. If someone's being attacked, they're probably not going to care that it's a gray, drizzly day and that there are droplets of water glimmering on the flower petals. On the other hand, people do notice absurd details during stressful times, so if your character is staring down at his feet while someone informs him of his wife's death, he might just notice the color of the rug and the fact that it has a worn spot in the shape of Abraham Lincoln's head.

  17. #17
    Tell it like it Is Susan Littlefield's Avatar
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    srgalactica, !

    I actually find myself cutting some of the sensory description in a second draft. Even though it has gotten better, my downfall is over-describing.
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  18. #18
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin pattycat's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Susan Littlefield View Post
    I actually find myself cutting some of the sensory description in a second draft.
    This is me. The sensory descriptions in my first drafts tend to run a bit long since that's the part I love to write the most. When I revise I usually need to cut my description down to the significant details and then flesh out and revise my dialogue, etc.

  19. #19
    practical experience, FTW Heavenlydemonick's Avatar
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    I did this with my first novel. My first draft was really mainly to get the whole story down. It was just a long outline in my opinion. Now I'm in the second or third draft of editing and I wish I had put more thought into the first draft. Editing is awful....

  20. #20
    practical experience, FTW rwm4768's Avatar
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    I usually have to add in sensory detail on later drafts. Sight and sound generally come to me easily and feel natural to right. The other senses...not so much.

  21. #21
    Benefactor Member Roxxsmom's Avatar
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    I will do this too, especially if I've gotten feedback that a particular scene needs a little more information or feels a little spare (or if I feel it is so).

    But not every scene or interaction needs a wall of sensory information. Writing teachers often tell us to employ all five senses and give their students assignments to write scenes where they do this, but like many writing exercises, the point is to get you thinking about a technique, not to use it to excess. In a scene where the action or dialog needs to move on at a brisk pace, focusing too much on the senses can bog it down. And if you are writing in first person or limited third, you have to "use" the senses your protagonist would be using in that situation. Think how tedious a story would be if ever scene contained a laundry list of sights, sounds, textures and smells. Sometimes it's appropriate to do this, but often it isn't.

    For instance, if I mention how something smells, it's because I think it's a situation where there is an odor that would "jump out" at my pov character. Like the smell of decay in a charnel house, or the fusty book smell of an old library, or the smell of lamb, leeks and potatoes cooking over the fireplace when she steps into her mother's house. But a lot of the time, people don't consciously notice smells.

    I've probably short-changed textures the most in my current novel. This is likely because I don't have many scenes where I'm focused on what the characters are handling or touching, though there are few exceptions.
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    practical experience, FTW victoriakmartin's Avatar
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    Since I'm not a very visual reader myself, description is definitely one of my weaker points and so I definitely keep an eye out for places where it is lacking when I do revisions. For the first draft I generally focus more on the major events that are happening, knowing that I can flesh things out more later if need be.
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  23. #23
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    that's how I write

    Dialog first (I don't even use quotes or speaker attributes at first, just type as fast as possible) then action, then placeholders for settings (they walked into the room.) Usually the plot is exploding in my brain, and the dialog is driving the plot.

    Of course, not every chapter is the same. Some are scenery dependent, so I start with description. Like when I have my MC flying over the Himalayas in a helicopter - how can you not start with a description?

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  24. #24
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    I tend to write the story as it comes with only a minimal outline because I find the story will often take its own course. My first draft is to see if the story has legs and I'm happy enough that it's good enough to hold the reader's interest. Then I come back to fuss over the story during my next three or four drafts. Write in the senses that you think are important to the character but don't overdo it or the reader will tend to skip read. You really need to do what works best for you.
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  25. #25
    figuring it all out eyebee14's Avatar
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    It is what ever works for you. My first draft I spent the majority of my time working on the action scenes, dialogue and not so much description of the surroundings or sensory description. By draft four, I had a better idea of what I wanted to convey for each scene so I could insert sensory description and describe the character’s surroundings. However, I am with Heavenlydemonick, I wish I would have put more sensory stuff in my first or even my second draft. Editing and rewriting stinks!
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