I am so glad to introduce a guest post by Shauna E. Black, a traditionally published author of young adult science fiction and fantasy. Her new release, The Phantom Nightingale was published January 28, 2020.
Some time ago, my husband and I took a weekend trip across our state to see a friend get married. To break up a 7 hour drive, we stayed overnight in a little town where I’d found a good deal online.
It was a motel dating back to the 60s, recently renovated retro-chic to evoke a warm nostalgic feeling for a bygone era. But what impressed me the most were all the little conveniences the owner made available for the comfort of guests. The heater was turned on when we arrived, there were extra toiletries with fresh herbal scents, plush bathrobes usually only found in swanky hotels, and several retro bikes with baskets and big tires that guests could borrow to ride around town in style. I certainly felt pampered, and I will recommend the place to friends and family.
The owner of the motel didn’t achieve this pampered effect with silk sheets or huge hotel rooms or ten thousand channels of cable TV (when you still can’t find anything good to watch). It was the attention to little plush details that delighted me and made me feel like an honored guest.
There are many times, in my busy modern life, when I fail to notice the little details around me. I’m so focused on getting through my “to do” list, rushing here there and everywhere, that I miss out on opportunities to observe small but important aspects of my surroundings. When I take the time to slow down and pay attention, not only is my spirit renewed with the delight I find in the world, but my creativity is boosted and my writing enriched.
In college, I wrote a short story for a friend of mine who was a pure-bred Wyoming Cowboy. I’m a city girl myself, and I’m sure he thought I didn’t know the first thing about riding the range. But I knew just enough. When he read the story, he was flabbergasted that I had mentioned a saddle creaking when the main character stepped up onto a horse and settled in. It brought the whole story to life for my friend, and made me look like I knew what I was talking about, after all. (Even though I really didn’t 😉
It’s this mention of small but important details in a narrative that ring true for the reader and bring the story to life. As a writer, I’m a natural hermit. I often forget that gathering sensory details isn’t something a writer can do while sitting in a single room, day in and day out. (Something I’m frequently prone to doing.)
It requires getting out into the open air, smelling the world around you, seeing it, and tasting it for yourself. How else will you know how to describe the smell of fall if you don’t take a stroll while the neighbors are raking rotting leaves? How can you describe the feel of pool water drying on your skin in the hot sun if you’re always sitting at a desk? These descriptions come from experience and taking the time to pay attention. And it does take time. We can’t all be like Sherlock or that guy on Psych.
One of my favorite songs comes from the 1952 movie Hans Christian Andersen. He sings about an inchworm while the children are in school reciting their math facts. “Inchworm, inchworm, measuring the marigold. You and your arithmetic, you’ll probably go far. Inchworm, inchworm, measuring the marigold. Did you ever stop and think, how beautiful they are?”
When I take the time to get out of my rut, notice the world around me, then include these little details in my writing, it brings the story to life for both me and my readers. That’s a win all around.
Now, excuse me while I go hunt through the snow for some marigolds.
Award-winning author Shauna E. Black smiles a lot. But her appearance can be deceiving. Like the legendary sirens of old, she enjoys luring innocent readers into the fantastical worlds she creates and trapping them there. It is rumored that Shauna domesticated a dragon by feeding him ice cream and keeps four young house elves to do her bidding, although one escaped when presented a sock. Shauna declares war on the mundane, living a charmed life camouflaged in the high desert of the American Southwest. If you decide to go against your better judgment and ignore all warnings, you can find out more about her adventurous fiction on her website, ShaunaBlack.com.
(Images licensed by Shauna E. Black through Deposit Photo)
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