Voila! I've never heard it said so clearly before! Yes!
The best writing will make us feel like we're there, in the moment. The details will be real. Like it or not, we experience life through our senses, and to make us feel like we're there, you will need to use sensory detail. I want to know which one, what kind, how many. I want to know how, where, when, and why. I want to taste, feel, hear, see, and smell the moment.
But the keys to detail don't make up the subject of the story any more than the type of paint determines the subject of the painting.
There are different kinds of pictures. What kinds? Well, I suspect that these kinds follow the intelligences put forth by Howard Gardner. Unlike Gardner, I don't see the intelligences as a tool for teaching, but I do see them as a tool for understanding how we understand.
These pictures might appeal to--or more accurately, help you organize information by--any of the following (alone or in combination):
- your sense of beauty, ugliness, or placement (visual/spatial intelligence)
- your sense of rhythm, tone, or sound (musical intelligence)
- your sense of relationships (interpersonal intelligence)
- your sense of self (intrapersonal intelligence)
- your sense of movement/body capabilities (kinesthetic intelligence)
- your sense of words/connections (linguistic intelligence)
- your sense of analysis/logic (mathematical/logical intelligence)
- your sense of belonging/groupings (naturalist intelligence)
The other issue that makes employing them harder is that, no matter which intelligence you choose to employ, you need to employ it in ways that are observable and measurable. In other words, you need to be able to sense it, which means that no matter what type of picture you paint, you will use words for hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting, and feeling.
The difference between using these sensory words to paint a picture of an intelligence that relates to your story and painting a generic picture is the difference between a book that has you right there in the moment and one that has lost you in description. It's not usually the amount of description that loses a reader but the relevance of the description to the story that loses him or her. We will be exploring these ideas in depth over the next month or so.
Write about a recent moment that meant something to you. As you write, think about why the moment meant something (look at the intelligences above if you need to). Thinking about that why, use your senses to describe the action in that moment. The action could be what people do and say, or it could be your own thoughts. In this case, action is merely a change in the process of occurring.