Saturday, December 10, 2011

December’s details for your memoir

Make your December stories come to life for your readers. Write so your experience happens all over again for them.

How do you do that?

Include sensory details: Let readers see, smell, hear, feel, and taste what you experienced.

“When you trigger a reader’s sense of sight, smell, sound, touch, or taste,” says Melissa Donovan,* “you [elicit] a physiological response to your writing, and the reader will connect with it on a deeper, sensory level.”

Wednesday we considered sights related to your Christmas or Hanukkah memories: A memoir writer watches, looks, and sees.

“This is the secret of good writing: We must look intently.… We must look at everything very hard. Is it the task at hand to describe a snowfall? Very well. We begin by observing that the snow is white. Is it as white as bond paper? White as whipped cream? Is the snow daisy white, or eggwhite white, or whitewash white? Let us look very hard. We will see that snow comes in different textures. The light snow that looks like powdered sugar is not the heavy snow that clings like wet cotton.…” (James J. Kilpatrick, The Writer’s Art)

Capture December smells for your readers, too. Describe the perfume of evergreen Christmas trees because—who knows?—maybe your readers will have known only artificial trees.

Describe favorite food aromas. If your story is set in India, food smells will be different from a story set in Mexico.

For some of you, the fragrance of oyster stew might come to mind (but I’d change “fragrance” to “stench”).

A memoir writer also hears. He not only listens for stories,* he listens for the sounds of the holidays.

What Christmas or Hanukkah sounds will you include in your memoir?

If you write a vignette set in France, it will sound different from a story set in Japan.

If your story is set in 1930, it will sound different from a story set in 2000.

Capture December sights, smells, and sounds for your readers.

Next time we’ll cover the sensory details of touch and taste for your December stories.

“Stories create an experience.
It’s a long trip from the head to the heart.…
What experience are you going to create?…
‘There was this beggar sitting at the gate.’
Wait a minute.
Give me a chance to experience the beggar at the gate.
See the rags, smell the odor,
hear the coins in the tin cup, see the hollow eyes.”
(Fred Craddock, “Preaching as Storytelling,”
The Art and Craft of Biblical Preaching; emphasis mine)


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  2. Your tip on developing memoir chapters through describing sensory details is hugely helpful. I'll try to incorporate this idea as I move forward in writing. Since you introduced us to NAMW, I was also able to obtain a helpful booklet called The Memory List Question Book. It will supplement the other ideas you've given to help us trigger memories for writing. Enjoy the rest of your Sunday :-)

  3. I just love your blog. I'm awarding you the fun Liebster Award. It was awarded to me today and I'm passing it on to you.

    Stop by my blog to see the information on this award.

  4. Hi, Joyful, I'm so glad you're finding the Memory List Question Book helpful. There are so many ways we can mine those gems--our memories. Bless you as you write your stories!

    Wednesday we'll cover two more sensory details: touch and taste. See you then!


  5. Good ideas and reminders as always, Linda. Thank you!

  6. Olive Tree, glad you like the ideas. I will do my best to keep them coming!

    Janet, --- a Liebster Award! I'll hop on over to your blog to check this out! :)