Inkception News

Weaving a Scene With the 5 Senses

Posted by jenny.wendorf@rocketmail.com on May 30, 2013 at 9:25 AM

There are two major ways to write anything.

Scene which is active and utilizes the 5 senses and allows the reader to experience the story nearly firsthand.

Summary which tells.

Actually BOTH have a place in fiction. However, newbie writers have a tendency to rely too heavily on summary. They do this because they don't understand the difference between the two, and even if they CAN recognize it, they don't know how to change what they are doing.

SHOW don't TELL. Yes, you hear it everywhere, but few new writers really know what that means. I have to do this quick today but here's a comment I gave to one of my clients. She relies heavily on summary interspersed with dialog. This is extremely normal for many writers. They don't want to "tell" and they keep things almost active. They avoid backstory like the plague (which is okay) but even their active storytelling is still telling becaues they are TELLING what happened. They are not using the 5 senses and allowing the readers to experience the story.

He opened the door. 

"Hello, Mr. Carver."

Mr. Carver felt rather confused. "Hello?"

"Can I come in."

Mr. Carver invited him in and they argued about what he was doing here.

Now, it's not all telling. But, the only sense there is sound. Dialog brings the sound. Notice that when I take it out, that it's completely inactive narrative summary. It reads like a fairy tale... this happened... then this.

He opened the door. Mr. Carver felt confused. Mr. Carver invited him in and they argued about what he was doing here.

Now, this could be fine if it's a quick slightly humorous intro to the argument itself where perhaps there are many images and sounds and textures portrayed. However, for many writers, this summary (with added dialog) comprises the entire story. So, it's like I'm hearing, but I'm blind. The answer is images. Images. Images. We are visual creatures. Images should make up MOST of the content in an active scene. 

First picture the scene in your mind. You're holding that picture in your hand. It's REALLY there in front of you. Your characters are there, the furniture, the house, the porch, their expression, their posture. As the story unfolds that image changes and as it does you as an author have a duty to inform the reader because YOU are the only one who can see the picture.

A typical scene might go like this

[intro summary backstory to give context to the coming scene]


[summary of character's active thoughts]

[dialog (sound)]


[dialog (sound)]

[image with texture]

[summary inserting main's emotional response]


[dialogue (sound)]

[summary with a little bit of backstory]

Mr. Carver didn't want to open the door. He didn't like guests in any of their intrisive varieties at any time of year. Normally when the doorbell rang he took his laptop and his warm Dr. Pepper, and moved to his bedroom, but this morning his cat peed in there--everywhere. The smell could make a sailor vomit. No, he couldn't go in there. And this guest, this person, who kept ringing simply would not go away. 

Who could it be? A child playing a prank? A humanoid robot (because the ring occured each 5 minutes and 38 seconds on the dot)? The idea of who it was perplexed him. He had no friends. His family never came to visit. They knew him.


Mr. Carver whirled around in his twisty chair, eyes furious. He glared at the door. He hated it, every inch of off white painted wood, it's curling rather useless weather stripping, the bit of decorative metal which framed it's lonely peephole.

He stood from his chair, tightening his fists in anger, paced. He was resolved. He would do it, finally do it. It was the quickest way. He would tell them to 'scat', 'get the hell out of here'. There was nothing else to it. The fast way to be alone again was to finally give in and open the stupid door.

He did.

"Wow, Mr. Carver!"

"What on Earth are you doing here?"

"I came to talk to you."


The man, the pest, wore a mismatched suit and red striped undershirt. His green tie matched the little bits of green dyed curls in his mane of blonde hair. His face could be considered ruddy, with two fat cheeks and a Cheshire grin. Perhaps his appearance was supposed to shock. Was he from a circus? Some sort of clown?

"Whoever the hell sent you, tell them to shove it. I'm not interested."

"Not even in, the chance to win a billion..."

"Not for any money."

"... a billion bottle tops?"

Mr. Carver was not a man easily surprised, but this did it. Who the hell would do this? Dress in this fashion, stalk a man of his age and profession, merely of offer him a bilion bits of trash? But, in some strange facet of his mind, he was curious. 

"Why the hell...?"

Mr. Carver sagged his weight against the door frame, his mind turning around itself again and again, quite befuddled. The clown-man took this for invitation and stepped inside. His big red floppy shoes were soon crossed over each other, stretched out, as he rested himself on Mr. Carver's leather couch. He took a hand and pet the smooth soft black hide.

"Nice set up you got."

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1 Comment

Reply Elizabeth Lang
6:59 PM on June 3, 2013 
Good summary of the differences :)