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Helping your reader feel what your character feels, literally

September 26, 2013

This morning, as I write this, I am looking outside at grass. I mean real grass that grows in blades directly from the ground. Not some grass-like substitute that sprouts from runners that seem to grow everywhere except in the places they’re supposed to.

When I go outside barefoot in the grass in the morning, it’s dew-covered and cold–cold enough to be uncomfortable. Cold discomfort is comforting in July, when it cannot be naturally experienced anyplace in the state of Florida.

And the feel of it on my feet–it’s something I took for granted when I lived here, but not so much any more. It’s like walking on velvet. I love, love, LOVE it. Except velvet doesn’t snake up with its welcome embrace between my toes and massage them gently enough that it’s just perfectly this side of a tickle.

I don’t know about you, but I’m usually pretty good about letting my reader know about what my characters feel. But I’m not so good about letting you know what they feel. You’ll get that they’re angry or confused. But you won’t get from my characters the fact that the grass feels like a welcome friend from their childhood. You won’t get the observations about how it feels like walking on velvet. You won’t get the part about the grass being almost uncomfortably cold as they walk on it in the morning dew.

A lot of times, that’s okay. It might not be relevant to the book that the grass in upstate New York is different than the grass in Florida. It might not be relevant to the character that they prefer it and look forward to it. It’s an interesting detail that may add no value.

But it might not be. The tactile part of life is very powerful. And, in the right circumstances, it could allow you to make your reader jump directly into the character’s shoes.

Or bare feet, as the case may be.

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One Comment
  1. September 26, 2013 10:25 am

    Yes, I agree. It’s just the getting there, the really being able to do it that’s the hard part! I know what I want my readers to pick up on, just don’t always know how to make words FEEL.

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