As a species, humans tend to be very vision centric. I think that’s precisely why most young writers tend lean too heavily on visual descriptions in their early works. If we want to fully immerse our readers, we need to show them all of what our PoVs experience. Not just sight, but smell, taste, touch, and the dozens of other ways we perceive our world.
However, once most writers realize the power of sensory immersion, they often go overboard with the descriptions they use. Understandable, but too much detail is easily overwhelming, or even worse, boring. Instead writers must learn how to identify the strongest visual elements the story offers and then combine them with the subtle details that bring the scene to life. You don’t need to describe everything, just the right things. Knowing which elements are key takes practice and experience, both as a writer and as an avid reader.
Brandon Sanderson is one of my favorite authors because he has a gift for building entire worlds from a handful of excellent visual elements. One of my favorites is the mist cloak from his Mistborn series.
The idea of a cloak made of individual tassels that float and flow like tendrils of mist has a very strong visual appeal. It’s easy to picture and it stuck with me. However, it also provides an opportunity to bring in other senses. Through his language as he described Vin’s experiences and adventures, Sanderson had me imagining the rough, home spun feel of the fabric against my skin, the dragging weight of the cloak while it streamed out behind me, and the sound the cloth made as the strips rubbed against one another. By engaging those other senses, Sanderson ensured that the cloak became much more real to my mind.
Additionally, Sanderson has used that strong visual element as fodder for his marketing and branding efforts. Tor’s cover artist was able to use the mist cloak to create attention grabbing covers.
However, the fact that he was able to create such a vivid visual element also captured his readers’ imagination. I’ve seen dozens of pieces of fan art featuring the mist cloak, and it’s a common accessory for cosplayers who want to show their love for Sanderson’s works. By choosing the right visual element and working to make it real for his readers, Sanderson has reaped untold free advertising.
Everyone talks about how strong nerd rage is, but what they don’t realize is that nerd love is even more powerful. All you need is to give them something to feed that their imaginations, something to sew or draw, and they’ll take it and run with it. Quite powerful for a few tassels of cloth sewed into a cloak, eh?Tags: Sequence 08: Stories I Love