The scent of cinnamon

Activate your reader’s brain

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.