Keeping It Real: Part 1

Today isn’t Wednesday but the Writer’s War Room is open. Today’s topic for writers in our struggle to find success as novelists is “Keeping It Real: Part 1.”

For a novel to find widespread acceptance, it has to appeal to a broad range of readers. This means, among other things, that the reader has to become invested in the story. There are many ways to capture and captivate the reader. Foremost, of course, is to write a compelling story with fascinating characters—good and bad. But there are many other elements too. Among them is the need to engage the five senses—taste, touch (or feel), smell, sight and hearing.

The visual arts have an advantage over the non-visual ones such as literature. A movie can show you the scene graphically and supply the elements of sight and hearing. A character’s visible reactions can convey information to the audience about the qualities of taste, smell, and touch. It’s becomes more challenging in the printed word.

Here’s the opening scene in the third paragraph of my novel Sleeping Dogs: The Awakening

“It was early morning, a few days into a new year, and cold. Whelan wore thin glove liners, partly to counter the chill and partly to avoid leaving fingerprints in the rented Jeep. A stranger in a strange land, particularly one under a death warrant, takes precautions. A soft rain, not much more than a heavy mist, blurred the landscape, creating halo effects around the streetlights. The only sounds were the hiss of the tires on the wet streets and the Grand Cherokee’s wipers wagging slowly across the windshield. The hypnotic rhythm didn't help his fatigued state. Even the odor of stale cigarette smoke from a previous user didn’t seem as annoying now.”

What are Whelan’s senses telling him? It’s cold. He’s wearing glove liners against the feel of the chill. He sees the mist blurring the landscape, creating halo effects around the streetlights. He hears the hiss of the tires on the wet streets and the car’s wipers sliding across the windshield. He smells the stale cigarette smoke from a previous driver of the rental car. In the paragraph that follows, he touches the ON button for the radio and listens to Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight.” The element of taste isn’t directly involved in the scene, but I might easily have mentioned that he had been traveling from Ireland for almost 24 hours and had a stale taste in his mouth. Or that he’d eaten a spicy meal and could still taste the garlic.

You get the point. Whelan isn’t some empty, one dimensional character that a reader couldn’t identify with. He’s fleshed out, real, experiencing what the reader would experience in those circumstances. The reader can identify with him and feel that he knows him. He or she is becoming invested in the character and wants to know more, such as where is he going at 2:30 a.m., and, with a Presidential Decision Directive calling for his immediate death, what’s he doing in Georgetown if he lives in Ireland?

© John Wayne Falbey 2017 All Rights Reserved