Ever since hearing him speak at ConnectiCon, I’ve been following David Farland’s #WritingTips newsletter (subscribe here). It’s a great resource from an author who has not only published dozens of novels, but also knows a great deal about book marketing and the publishing industry (because of his recommendation, Scholastic chose to focus marketing efforts on Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, allowing its success in the U.S. market).
Anyway, his most recent newsletter dealt with the different methods of delivering sensory detail, as they correspond to the different ways humans learn: kinetic, auditory, and visual. A couple of key points jumped out at me. The first is that authors naturally tend to write sensory details that correlate to their learning style, which makes sense. People who learn visually are more likely to find visual details easier and more natural to describe. The majority of the human population learns through visual means.
The second key point that stood out was the simple fact that readers will also expect to be given details in their preferred method. If, say, a visual learner is being fed too many auditory or kinetic details but not enough visual details, the result is a disconnect between the prose and the reader. Farland suggests reading some of your own work to see what kind of details you offer and what kinds you tend to exclude.
I tried this with the beginning of the novel I’m working on, and I was rather surprised by what I found. I consider myself primarily a kinetic learner, and a very weak auditory learner, but a moderate visual learner. In the first two pages introducing two of the main characters and found five kinetic details, five auditory, and only two visual. And even the visual details still felt faintly kinetic. For example, in the sentence, “she flexed her right arm, a pristine titanium and carbon fiber replica from the elbow-down,” I give one clear kinetic detail (flexing the arm), but the visual detail (the material the arm is made of) offers kind of a weak visual, but implies kinetic detail with both texture and physical sensation (as opposed to a purely visual detail like describing color or luminescence of the object, or something like that).
Knowing how I think, this makes some sense. I’m more attuned to kinetic details, so they come to mind more naturally when I’m writing. I’m also more aware of my auditory weakness, which allows me to overcompensate for it. But skimping on visual detail, the type of details that are the most crucial for roughly 60% of the population, is a tragic missed opportunity. Clearly, I still have a lot to work on.
Luckily, where the problem arises, Farland points out a solution:
The easiest way to overcome this problem is to make sure that when you are writing, you remember to use the KAV cycle. In each paragraph, describe what the character is doing, hearing, and seeing in that order, and frequently add in what the character smells… your goal is to create enough imagined sensory input for your reader so that they forget that they’re reading and instead find themselves “living through the story.”
Now, I’m not one for typical structure (I recently discovered I can’t plot my way out of a paper bag), so the idea of structuring sensory detail in this way kind of clashes with my mojo a bit. But experts like Farland are experts for a reason, so it’s worth giving it the old college try (how many more cliches can I fit in this paragraph…).
Part 2 of Farland’s lesson on KAV cycles will be coming out soon. I’m eager to see what other tips he has to offer on the subject. In the meantime, you can read part 1 here.