“My arms ached, my back was cramped and I was trembling with the prolonged terror of a fall. Besides this, the unbroken darkness had had a distressing effect upon my eyes. The air was full of the throb and hum of machinery pumping air down the shaft.”
THE TIME MACHINE – H.G. Wells
In March, 2012, there was an article in The New York Times – Sunday Review by Anne Murphy Paul, titled, Your Brain on Fiction. Now, isn’t that a great suggestive title? Fiction as a mind-enhancing drug, one that evokes images of the brain drunk on words. So, what does it mean? Well, I recommend you read the whole article, because it is not only fascinating information (and Knowledge is Power), but to a writer, it can also be used as a guide to improving your own writing. (Click Here for Link to Article)
The excerpt above of The Time Machine by H.G. Wells (which I recently re-read and was delighted to see it still held my interest) gives us a example of how to stimulate the reader’s brain with its emotional “actions.”
There is a feeling of movement to the words, texture and emotions of terror.
Ms. Paul’s article talks about research by a team out of Emory University about how the reader’s brain actively reacts to descriptions with textures, touch, a sense of movement and smells. We can truly live vicariously through fictional characters and their longings, frustrations and trials and tribulations. As writers, we need to remember to be conscious of this fact when we are “moving” our characters through the interweaving fabric of our stories.
According to the Ms. Paul’s article, a team of Emory University researchers also reports that …metaphors like “The singer had a velvet voice” and “He had leathery hands” roused the sensory cortex while phrases matched for meaning, like “The singer had a pleasing voice” and “He had strong hands,” did not.
Which brings me to one of my favorite use of a metaphor by an author. It comes from a John Irving’s book, Prayers for Owen Meany. Read it and weep all you writers, for this has to send your sensory cortex into overdrive!
“You’ve seen the mice caught in the mousetraps?” she asked me. “I mean caught – their little necks broken – I mean absolutely dead,” Grandmother said. “Well, that boy’s voice,“ my grandmother told me, “that boy’s voice could bring those mice back to life!”
Obviously, there is only one H.G. Wells, and one John Irving, but we can tear a page from their fiction on how it should be done. I will leave you with an excerpt of a story I’m working on currently. I can only hope it tickles your brain, too.
Big Doofus is usually right, since his coon dog’s snout knows what curdled fear smells like, and surely those escapees stink from it as they push through the brambles, crawl over rocks, twist an ankle in shallow holes and get bitch-slapped by low-slung tree limbs. They always lose their sense of direction, all the time going deeper and deeper into Catalysta Woods. Wheezing hard and bloodied from their efforts, the prey arrives at the Clearing. There is no getting out of the woods.
If you want, please use the comment section to give me a brief example of your own efforts to engage the reader’s imagination.