Adding emotional depth to a scene, often in the revision stage, can be hard because you’ve written it as you pictured it in your head, right. However, sometimes what’s in your head isn’t what comes across on the page. How frustrating! Try creating a 3-D effect for readers and using sensory details to convey motive/goals/priorities, and emotions.
Before You Turn To The Sensory Details…
Yes, sensory details are going to be important, but first thing’s first. For deep point of view, you must become the main character in each scene. You’re not a passive third-party observer, a movie-goer in a theatre seat – you are the main character. This small tweak to how your brain captures the scene is very helpful.
Now, what’s your character’s goal in this scene? What do they want to happen? What are they trying to acheive? What’s at stake? What’s their worst case scenario? Jot all this down if you need to. This is your character’s WHY and it will be the filter through which all the other details are seen through.
List 5 Things Your Character Can See
This is actually a twist on a grounding exercise for those struggling with PTSD, anxiety, etc. Close your eyes and become your main character for a moment. Remind yourself of their WHY – what are they desperate to find, get to, rescue, overcome, etc.
List 5 things your character can see. What are the first five things your character notices about the setting? Remember, readers do 90% of the work with description. If I write that my pretty female MC has pulled the handsome male MC she’s been crushing on into a dark office and made a point of locking the door behind her. She reaches for the buttons on her blouse and he reaches for the blinds.
What are the first 5 things she sees? Here’s my guess: his body posture, the desk he’s leaning back against, the way his fingers curl around the edge of the desktop, the light coming into the office under the locked door, the file marked TOP SECRET on his desk.
Adding Layers Of Sensory Details To Show Emotional Depth
Sight is the primary sense writers use and that’s totally understandable, but we have other senses that take in information that influences our decisions and interpretations of things. You’ve written down the character’s WHY, and the first five things the character sees in this scene. (What she notices or searches for hints at her WHY.)
List 4 things she can hear: the metallic rasp of the blinds against the office windows, the muted footsteps and murmurs of colleagues passing by the office, the crunch of papers under his backside, the sharp intake of his breath.
List 4 things she can touch: the hard smooth buttons on her blouse, the soft silk of her blouse, the stiff utilitarian carpet under her toes, the restrictive watch band on her wrist ticking away the time…
List 3 things she can smell: his cologne or aftershave, the lingering scent of her own shampoo, the sharp popcorn odour from the microwave in the office across the fall.
What Can All Those Sensory Details Show Readers?
My character is concerned with getting a glimpse of a file on the guy’s desk, but she also really really likes this guy. She’s a little conflicted. She’s very aware of the time – of how quickly it’s passing, and that they’re not alone. They are in a busy office setting.
Now, in a story I wouldn’t want to just catalogue all these details. I would pick one or two or three details that would create a 3 dimensional setting for readers. The physical details of the setting, the desk, the door, are what’s vital for reader to know. Does it matter in this scene if there’s art on the wall? That the guy has a $30,000 vase on a shelf? What the name plate on his desk says? Not right now. All of the setting details are filtered and prioritized through her scene goals and motivations.
The Key To Creating A 3-D-Style Setting
The really key thing to remember is that YOU (the writer) are not describing the scene or the setting, the character is. That’s the tweak you need to make to the POV perspective.
Whatever is important to the character, whatever their goals are, what they’re afraid of, all those things are going to create a filter through which they take in information. In deep point of view, what they overlook or don’t notice is just as important as what they do see. If my character above had never been in that office before, she might notice different things maybe. If she had a different reason for being in that office with that guy, she would focus on different details. The fact that she doesn’t notice any setting details beyond the desk, the man, and the folder on the desk inside the office offers clues for readers.
Trust Your Readers To Understand How Sensory Details Betray Emotions
The biggest issue I come across when helping people learn deep point of view is that they don’t trust the reader. They leave this beautiful trail of clues that are subtle and well done, and then the next sentence they blurt out everything they alluded to above just to “make sure the reader gets it.” This is what beta readers are for. Ask them, did you get this? In this scene, what did you think she wanted most? These kinds of questions will help you figure out if you need to tweak the description or not instead of resorting to blunt telling.
Been told you should learn Deep Point Of View? Had an editor or critique partner tell you to “go deeper” with the emotions in your fiction? Looking for a community of writers seeking to create emotional connections with readers? Check out the Free Resource Hub and then join the Going Deeper With Emotions In Fiction Facebook group.
Ren'e Fedyna says
Wow, this is great advice! I can’t wait to write my next chapter using a 3-D style setting. It’s also a good exercise, for say, when you’re sitting in a waiting room of a dental office and observing the other patients as well as paying attention to your own sensory observations and feelings although I’m in no hurry to go to a dental office). Thanks, Lisa.
Lisa Hall-Wilson says
Awesome! Glad it was helpful. Word choice is very important here too. A locked room can feel safe or like a prison. The words you use to describe the setting create the emotional filter. Words bring connotation with them, right. Is that word’s connotation neurtal, positive or negative? Think of “walk” <- this is neutral. There's no emotion attached to walk. What about skip, stroll, or meander? Those imply emotions, right. What about stomp, march, drags heels? Those convey different emotions. 😀 Keep writing!