During the school holidays, Creative Write-it held a ‘Show us your Stories’ workshop. The basis of this workshop was to identify ways of storytelling by showing rather than telling. We used film as a means of visual storytelling, and we even looked at the senses (but more on that later).
A vital tool we used was the art of the short film. With the two different age groups, we looked at two films. They were Piper (2016) and The Present (2014). With little to no dialogue in the films, the kids relied on visuals to tell the story.
By examining the images in the film, the group was able to identify
One young writer watched The Present during the ‘Show us your Stories’ workshop. Through visuals alone, she was able to conclude that, “The boy was lonely and sad so in that time he played on with his video games.”
It can be difficult to tell how someone is feeling, or what the goal of a character is without them saying so explicitly in dialogue. It’s the job of a filmmaker to communicate the story through visuals and sound.
It may be hard to believe, but writers also have the same task of communicating the story through visuals and sound. We, as writers, don’t necessarily have the tools like sound effects or visuals that a filmmaker does. But we do have our senses.
The Importance of Sensory Detail
The sensory details are vital for world-building. It’s a way for the reader to engage with the story. Sensory detail is when the writing jumps off the page while at the same time moving the story forward. It can make a story exciting, dazzling, surreal. Just be wary of adding too much detail, as the story will stall with the end nowhere in sight.
How can we make the story feel real? This is the question I ask the kids, no matter if their story falls under the genre of adventure, crime, or fantasy. The answer: by focusing on the senses.
The world of a story becomes tangible if we mention the scent of gardens, the flavour of food, and even the textures of clothing. Writers use the senses to evoke a world created with words.
Writing with the senses can bring your writing to life. It can also put the reader in the character’s state-of-mind. We taste what they taste, we hear what they hear, and through their experiences with the senses, we begin to understand who they are as a person, what their state of mind is in that moment.
In the ‘Show us your Stories’ workshop, we identified the senses by listing them. Beneath each sense (touch, hear, taste, see, smell) the students wrote down what they recalled from the film.
Violet, who watched The Present, wrote: “Noises of the game and happy music as the dog was introduced into the story. As he picked up his crutches you could hear them on the ground and you could also hear the dog in the box playing with a ball!”
And Olive, who also watched The Present, wrote: “I saw how the boy shoved away the poor puppy and didn’t care until he realised the puppy was limping with only three paws, not four.”
The moments that stood out for me were when the young writers could locate where senses needed to be added to enhance their stories. For example, someone writing about a cake shop or a bakery would note the smell in the room. Those who got stuck on a description were able to return to their senses and describe one or two things.
The writer conjures up words that the imagination can feast on. Out of this comes moments like the dining hall scenes in the Harry Potter series, where J.K. Rowling’s descriptions make you want to eat the food. Or moments in Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which appeal to your senses so much that you want to swim through a river of chocolate!
Great writing can transform you from your comfortable reading spot to a world of wonder. It is with the tool of the senses that the writer can achieve such a feat. And isn’t that all we’re looking for when we settle in to read a great book, to be transformed out of our world and into another?
Atorina Saliba is a writer and Workshop Leader at Creative Write-it. You can read more about her and her writing here!
Where young writers (and some older ones) write.