Are you ready to try writing in hard mode? I want to tackle something this week which, in my opinion, is one of the hardest technical aspects of creative writing; managing physical space. By this, I mean creating a clear image of the space your characters are occupying and how they are moving within it. This will be a particularly important skill for writers of erotica and action/adventures as these genres rely heavily on complex physical actions which must be explained clearly for your scenes to make sense.
A Quick Demonstration
It’s easy to brush over this article and think ‘it’s not that bad’ so I want to give you a practical demonstration of why this skill is tough to master. This exercise was shown to me by one of my creative writing teachers years ago and it’s a lot of fun.
First you need to grab a friend and ask them to pick a picture. Any picture will do but I suggest something rather simple and very clear like a drawing from a children’s book or colouring book. Don’t allow your friend to show you the picture. Now, on a big sheet of paper or a white board you are going to try to draw the picture just from your friend’s description of it. The trick is, they are not allowed to mention any of the objects from the picture; they can only describe the shapes and the way they connect together. For example, ‘draw a triangle with the flat side facing up, then draw another triangle above it with one point touching the flat side of the triangle below. Under the bottom triangle draw a horizontal, wiggly line’. Congratulations, you just drew a boat on the ocean. Kind of. A warning: you and your friend will want to strangle each other by the end of this game.
What is the Solution?
If you have a go at that game, I can almost guarantee that you will understand why this aspect of writing is so hard. It’s a scaled down version of what you will be attempting. Of course, in your work you can describe actual objects and not just shapes, but you will also be trying to explain something far more complex than a colouring book picture.
So, what can you do to make this daunting task easier? There are whole text books and courses on the topic but I hope you will accept my top tips as a quick way to get you started.
First of all, don’t needlessly over-complicate your physical space. I know you want your characters to try every move from the Karma Sutra but attempting to describe something so complicated may just take all of the excitement out of the moment when your reader has to draw a diagram just to figure out what you’re trying to describe. Similarly, with your setting, try to limit how crucial it is for your reader to have the room memorised. If they are standing in a dining room with a table folded on the far side, that is fine. This is a small enough amount of information that they will remember it when your character crosses the room to unfold the table later. But if your character is playing chess and the reader’s understanding of the scene requires them to know where every piece is on the board, you have gone too far.
Another tip is to use comparisons to help the reader understand the space and its contents. For example, ‘the glowing artefact looked strangely similar to a padlock’ is easier to understand than ‘the glowing artefact was a rectangular block of metal with a second hoop of metal that sprang from the top, curved around and went back in again’. You can modify these comparisons to suit your needs such as ‘the glowing artefact looked strangely similar to a padlock, but with a ball of glowing light where the lock should be’. Having a basic comparison to work from will make your life easier, even if you have to tweak it.
There’s plenty more I could say on this but for now, I will leave you to go try this game. Let me know how it goes! If you enjoyed this article, please click like and follow, and join my again next week when I will be talking about the writing habits that will make your life easier and more productive.