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The scent of cinnamon

Activate your reader’s brain

David Gane
David Gane
1 min read

When you read the title of this post, your brain likely lit up in the area that recognize the smell.

The same thing happens when we read about a character taking action. It activates our brain in those same areas.

And when we describe a place, our mind's eye visualizes it as if seeing it—not only in the order of our sentences but our grammar. As Will Storr states in The Science of Storytelling:

We don't wait until we get to the end of the sentence. This means the order in which writers place their words matters. This is perhaps why transitive construction—Jane gave a Kitten to her Dad—is more effective than the ditransitive—Jane gave her Dad a kitten. Picturing Jane, then the Kitten, then her Dad mimics the real-world action that we, as readers, should be modelling. It means we're mentally experiencing the scene in the correct sequence.

So lean into that superpower:

  • Use all your reader's senses. We don't need to overwhelm with all of them, but two or three key details can help us imagine it.
  • Embrace active, descriptive verbs. Do your characters walk, or do they stroll, hike, or shuffle?
  • When you describe a space, don't skip around. Move through it like a movie camera, pan left or right, or zoom in or out.
  • Finally, write sentences that flow in a visual direction to help you visualize them.

David Gane Twitter

Co-writer of the Shepherd and Wolfe young adult mysteries, the internationally award-winning series, and teacher of storytelling and screenwriting.


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