It was 5 years ago that I wrote a post for Writer Unboxed on using experiential description to add characterization to a narrative.
Pause for HOLY COW, 5 YEARS!? Yep, it was 2007. My, how time gallops.
I coined the phrase “experiential description” to express the blending of a character’s perceptions of a setting, person, or an action with description of the literal what it is/what is happening.
The reason I’m writing about this again is that I’ve been teaching experiential description in workshops at writers conferences, and my understanding of it has grown to appreciate that what makes experiential description work is that it’s gut-level, unconscious reactions or perceptions, not thoughts or internal monologue, that inject character into description.
Look at it this way: when you drive up to your home, you don’t simply see a rectangular structure with windows and doors and landscaping that includes green grass and an oak tree and a cluster of cedar trees.
No, all of your experiences are loaded into your instant of perception. Let’s say you notice that a window is open. Your internal description is not: The left corner window is open.
No, your experiential description might be: The baby’s window is open.
When you enter the kitchen, you don’t see: The kitchen has gray ceramic counters, a stainless steel sink, and a black refrigerator.
I call this a snapshot, a photographic image that only communicates physical qualities. [Read more…]