You will on occasion hear somebody say something along the lines of how we can learn from everyone.
“Each man has something to teach me.”
That kind of stuff.
I don’t know, it always sounds they are like trying to appear humble when in fact they weren’t necessarily being so.
However, you can also sound like “I’m a very smart person and you are not but… ”
In other words, of course you can learn from other people, so announcing that you can kind of shows you are arrogant. Does that make sense?
Anyway, that is NOT my intent here.
My intent here is to explain to other writer types that each of us struggles with certain things and we can learn how to overcome those things if we pay attention to how other people do it.
For example, one of my critique partners struggles with properly layering emotions into a story. Another labors with action scenes.
Most new writers struggle with settings and descriptions, not knowing how much is too much.
For that latter group, I have some great insights that I picked up from Lucy’s book.
Many times when you have actually done something, and then you write about it, it has a much better air of authenticity than if you are just making it up or describing what you saw on an Internet video.
An example I often use is firing a shotgun. You can see it done all the time in movies and think nothing of it, but if you ever hold a shotgun in real life you will be surprised at how heavy it is, when you pull the trigger it is insanely loud and your ears will ring afterwards, it will kick backwards into your shoulder and probably leave a bruise (possibly a black eye if you were using a rifle with a scope and were too close to it), and there is a smell that accompanies the smoke you see afterwards.
Shooting guns smells like fireworks.
Because bullets and fireworks are both launched by gun powder.
Everybody has seen something like that in the movies but not everybody has done it in real life – and not everybody considers using all their senses in the description, or rather, bringing all the reader’s senses into the description.
Lucy does that throughout the book which indicates she actually did these things.
Not shooting guns, per se…
One example I found particularly striking was when she tried on her new uniform suit jacket and it had a silk lining. The character of PorterGirl was impressed by that, indicating to me that it exceeded her expectations. The college had done something in a high-quality high style manner, which is what the college does, but I suppose as a porter she was not expecting that.
Since the character notices it, the reader does.
And most readers have felt silk or enjoyed the experience of sliding into a new jacket that has a silk lining or something similar.
The point is, it brings in other senses.
The jacket lining is a detail that Lucy gives us that we might not have gotten on our own. To me it shows she actually did that thing. Her readers know she used to be a porter so that’s not far-fetched, but it could’ve applied anywhere.
Later she talks about putting on the bowler hat and how it’s too tight but that she expected that – and she explained some of the things that used to happen when she was a police officer and had to wear a bowler hat. Her for head will get stained by the black band if it rained or if she sweat too much, etc.
These little details can easily be too much if you do that with a heavy hand. That’s why I enjoyed seeing her sprinkle them into the story like so much salt and pepper might go into a soup. Not too much, not too little, but just right – and the key word is not too much. A little bit dripped in here and there in the story is what allows the writing to feel normal and natural – and yet completely immersing.
Another example is when she goes to meet the head of housekeeping.
She says the woman smells of bleach and lemon.
Anybody might have said the housekeeping room smells like bleach; would anybody have gone the extra step to say bleach and lemon? Again,
it probably actually happened, but even if it didn’t, it feels like it did
– and it brings in more of the five senses again.
When she talks about walking on the cobblestones, some days she’s exuberant about doing it and other days not. When she was walking with a feeble old professor, she explained that it was difficult for him. This is another tactile way to bring in more senses.
So two things to take away our this: bring in all five senses but do it do it judiciously.
Don’t oversalt the soup.