Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere

Muses and Senses

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Saturdays are our traditional “head to the library” days. My daughter and I visit the local library to return books and DVDs and search for others to read and watch. She likes to watch movies on lazy weekends, so she checks out the DVDs available.

One of her favorite movies is “Soul Surfer”, the story of Bethany Hamilton, the surfing star who survived a shark attack. This weekend we watched another surfing movie, “Chasing Mavericks”, the story of another young surfer. Mavericks are the monster waves that challenge surfers and only happen during certain weather circumstances.

Anyway, point being the movie showed these monster waves with 35′ heights slamming into the rocky coastline and battering a nice-sized boat around. Even though I wasn’t standing live on the shore, the images and sounds of those waves rolling and crashing hit me in the chest, somehow still affecting me with the awesome power of the ocean. I get the same sensation when watching a thunderstorm roll through or a whiteout blizzard. I haven’t seen the ocean in twenty years, but I remember standing on a beach on the Na’pali coast of Kauai and just listening to the waves hit the volcanic bones of the shoreline.

As I watched the story play out in the movie, I kept coming back to the muse of the waves, the sheer power of the water, and wondered how on earth I’d relay that feeling of reverence and awe to readers. How can a writer create that hit to the senses? How could you draw the reader into the scene so completely that when the lightning cracks through the air or the thunder booms and rattles the windows the reader will jump?

I think that’s the type of reaction we strive to evoke in our readers. The trick is to do it in such a way that the reader doesn’t even realize it’s happening. It’s a slow, deliberate build that feeds all the senses, especially those other than visual. We expect the reader to have experienced certain things, such as the heaviness of hot, humid air before the thunderclouds block the sun or the scent of ozone when lightning shatters those clouds in steady pulses. But if you’ve never felt the solid earth beneath you shudder in an earthquake, it’s my job as the writer to bring you there. And it’s a tough job.

Pick out one thing that affects you to the point where you need to stop and remind yourself to breathe. It could be the aroma of a turkey dinner that reminds you of your beloved grandmother, the whipcrack of lightning, the taste of Swiss chocolate from the European vacation where you met your now-best friend/spouse/etc, or the purr of a kitten/cat vibrating through your chest when she takes a nap with you and reminds you how she saved your sanity after the emotional drain of a particularly stressful day at work. Write a passage that touches all senses and strives to recreate that reaction in a reader. Use fresh metaphors and similies.

Now, have a trusted, unbiased friend read the passage and tell you how it affects them. I’ll post my own passage on my Writing Exercises page.

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Author: Julie Holmes, author

Pen names: J. M. Holmes, J. M. Goebel A fiction writer since elementary school (many years ago), and NaNoWriMo annual participant for a decade, I've been published in small press magazines such as "Fighting Chance" and "The Galactic Citizen". I write adult mystery with a touch of romance, mystery with extrasensory elements, contemporary fantasy, and epic fantasy, and I'm represented by the fabulous Cynthia Zigmund of Second City Publishing Services. In real life, I am a technical writer with a family of two teens, a wonderful hubby, one cat (what writer doesn't have cats??), two dogs, four chickens, and more chipmunks, squirrels, and rabbits than any garden should have to deal with. My garden, our hobby farm, and Nature's annual seasons are some of my muses.

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