So by now most of you know I have a new novel out, Simon Says, and the next anthology, Infinite Stars: Dark Frontiers, is out in 3 weeks, close on its heels. So I am on the promotion bandwagon for a bit. Here’s two chances to catch me live this week:
Monday: At 8 p.m. CST U.S., find me on Keystroke Medium Live on YouTube, Join me and hosts Josh Hayes and Scott Moon as we talk about writing, police, the book, and more. Be sure and login early so you have your name in the chat window and can ask questions.
Tuesday: At 3 p.m. in the afternoon, you can call in and ask questions as I join hostess Sherri Rabinowitz on Chatting With Sherri live on blogtalk radio. The call-in number is 646-915-9580.
I’ll be talking about my research process for writing the John Simon Thrillers, including real live ride-alongs with KCPD on all night shifts multiple times, and other adventures, and taking questions. Who knows? We may even give away a book or two. So tune in please!
Many of us are guilty of falling into the habit of using one or two senses and ignoring the rest. For most of us, sight is the dominant sense—the sense through which we first encounter and examine the world. So how things appear will dominate most narratives naturally, closely followed by sound. But we have five senses, and all have the power to bring useful imagery into your storytelling.
Good description employs all five senses—sight, touch, taste, smell, and hearing—and employs at least one every two pages, sometimes more. A few well-placed details can totally embody a character or place and make them come alive for the reader. And nothing takes us deep inside the character’s mind and experience like sensory details. All good settings are rich with detail, so you should have plenty to choose from. From the appearance and smells of a restaurant or grocery store or market to the touch and sounds of the outdoors to the taste of food, there are numerous opportunities to add color and vividness to your prose using these kinds of details.
Here are some suggestions for aspects of each sense to consider:
Sight—Color is usually one of the first things that comes to mind, but studies actually show that spatial dimensions tend to be picked up first by the brain. How large is the area? How high is the ceiling? After dimension, the source of light tends to be noticed next. What is lighting the scene, and what is its source—artificial or natural? Is it bright or white or mixed hues? Then, color impressions form. The dominant color tends to take on significance. Next comes texture, like shadows or rough and smooth surfaces, etc. Finally, there’s contrast. Superimposition of colors and other aspects affects how much objects, people, and places draw our attention.
Sound—Sound can be described by the loudness or complexity—simple or multiple sources—tonality (soft or hard, harsh or gentle, etc.), and the location of its source and distance from the hearer. Also, is the sound unknown or familiar?
Smell—While smells can be often overlooked by both writers and in real life, smell can reveal a lot. Is the odor pleasant or unpleasant? What emotions does it evoke—fear like smoke from a fire, or is it the steady everyday scent of vehicles, animals, or insects in the environment that almost goes unnoticed because it is so common?
Touch—How do things feel—rough or smooth, hot or cold, sharp or dull, etc.?
Taste—Does the character notice sweet or bitter, salty or acidic, pleasant or unpleasant, etc.?
If you’re like me, these kinds of details may not come naturally. So, I recommend two key resources that have really helped me up my game on writing sensory content. The Emotion Thesaurus by Pugliosi and Ackerman and Setting by Jack W. Bingham. These two resources are so invaluable, I often keep them with me on trips and beside me as I write and refer to them often, because writing such visceral descriptions is not first nature to me, and it can be very easy to fall into personal clichés and patterns that repeat the same details and descriptions over and over, which quickly becomes repetitive and glaring to readers. The authors also discuss body language and internal sensations, which can be described to show, not tell, the emotions of characters, the atmosphere of rooms, etc. Additionally, author David Farland describes this as the Kentic, Audio, Visual Cycle and offers useful tips on his website at https://mystorydoctor.com/the-kav-cycle-part-1/.
Sensory experiences and emotions evidence themselves in three ways: internal sensations, external sensations, and body language, and all three are important ways to describe them and help readers experience them too. For example:
Butterflies danced in her stomach as she entered the audition, and she fought to control her face as she took in the other dancers. There were famous faces she’d seen in numerous Broadway shows and performances. What was she doing here? She swallowed and licked her lips, which had suddenly grown parched. Her arm was twitching. She had to make it stop, but it wasn’t listening to her internal commands, so she shoved it tight against her side in an attempt to control it.
I don’t have to tell you she is nervous and intimidated. The descriptions do the work. This is what you are aiming for. If you are unsure about a particular smell or taste or even sound, Googling can provide impressions others have had of familiar things that can be adapted for your prose. I also recommend practicing by going to a mall or price club or anywhere else and sitting down to take notes of all the things your senses notice as they occur to you. This will give you practice not only at writing visceral (i.e., instinctive and emotional) details but also in noting how they naturally affect you and might also affect your characters.
You’ve probably deduced by now that description is the art of picking the right details at the right time. Stories are about movement, so be wary of stories where your characters reflect and remember a lot. Instead, action and discovery go hand in hand. As your characters go and do things, they discover sensory cues that provoke memories, emotions, and reactions and inspire further action. People move through life on two levels simultaneously: physical and emotional. Physical movement follows plot and events that unfold A, B, and C, while emotional movement follows character. The physical tends to move with the emotional. So meshing plot and character is the key, and good description is key to your ability to do that well. As Monica Wood writes in Description: “A story’s pace is controlled by the physical and emotional goings-on in the story, and those goings-on are controlled by description.”
Another element where description is especially important is context. Establishing the scope of a story can be vital to making it work, giving characters a scope in which to love and hate each other, to conquer or fall to adversity, discover or lose themselves. Context uses metaphors and symbols to reinforce emerging themes and organize the movement of a story into beginning, middle, and end. Wood writes: “The breadth of the story should dictate the breadth of the context.” Contextual details, small or large, reveal character and can serve to contrast with the story itself, adding power. The order in which details are noted can tell us much about a character’s values and priorities as well as how they view themselves in relation to those around them. Are they rich or poor? Powerful or weak? Confident or insecure? These details can reveal so much about them.
So, how do you choose which details to use and when? Well, that depends upon what you need the readers to know to understand and connect with the story at any given moment. Let’s look at an example from John Connolly’s Charlie Parker book A Song of Shadows:
The woman stank of cats and cookies, of piss and mothballs, but Cambion, whose sensory abilities had long been ruined by his disease, and who had grown used to the reek of his own decay, barely noticed it.
How do you not remember that? Ask yourself what you most notice about particular people, places, and things. What do you remember? What stands out about them? What did you notice first? What sticks with you most when you have been away from them awhile and remember? These are the beginnings of finding the most definitive choices to use in describing them because they hint at what stands out when you encounter those people, places, and things. Let’s look at another example from Brazilian author Jorge Amado’s Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands:
Delicate, pale, with that pallor of romantic poets and gigolos, black hair slicked down with brilliantine and lots of perfume, a smile that was a combination of melancholy and allure, evoking a world of dreams, elegant in bearing and attire, with large, pleading eyes, the Prince would have to be described by very high-flown words: “marmoreal,” “wan,” “meditative,” “pulchritudinous,” “brow of alabaster and eyes of onyx.”
So much said with just a few words but very colorful, visceral, and intriguing because every word count. This is what good description is all about.
This is the panel I moderated on Friday of Comic Con 50 in San Diego with authors discussing how they write and envision the future in their works.
Panelists: Gini Koch – National bestselling Author, Alien series Timothy Zahn – Number 1 New York Times bestselling Author, Star Wars Thrawn, Quadrail series, Cobra series Steven L. Sears – Screenwriter/Author, Xena, The A-Team, Riptide Jonathan Maberry – New York Times bestselling Author, Joe Ledger series, Rot and Ruin series, VWars Javier Grillo-Marxuach – Screenwriter/Author/Comic Writer, Middleman, Lost,Blood & Treasure Seanan McGuire-New York Times bestselling author/Comic Writer, Newsflesh, October Daye, Spidergirl, The X-Men
For those wanting to connect, here are my confirmed tour dates so far for Fall 2017. Still trying to fill in open weekends in November with dates in either Arkansas, Nebraska, or Iowa. John Morris (aka Alexi), hope to see you there.
Oct. 5-8, 2017 New York Comic Con, Javits Center, New York City, NY, Guest, Book Launches: Predator: If It Bleeds (Titan) and Infinite Stars (Titan)
I have the honor of serving as Toastmaster for ARCHON in Collinsville, IL this year. It is a con I have attended on and off for years and enjoy. I really look forward to it. Here’s my schedule for the weekend. In between, find me at Bookseller’s Row, Table 16, outside the Dealer’s Room.
Star Wars – Is It What We Hoped It Would Be?
Friday 12:00 – 12:50, Salon 6 (Gateway Center)
With Episode VIII only months away, how do we feel about what we’ve gotten so far? Have Episode VII and Rogue One lived up to our dreams – and did they make up for Episodes I-III?
David VonAllmen (M), Jimmy D. Gillentine, Mr Paul Hahn, Bryan Thomas Schmidt
The Future Isn’t What It Used to Be
Friday 16:00 – 16:50, St. Clair A & B (DoubleTree – Collinsville)
How has our vision of the future changed as our culture has modernized and shed stereotypes and archaic norms?
Bryan Thomas Schmidt, Ms Joy Ward, Michael Benjamin (M)
Friday 18:00 – 19:00, Center Hall B (Gateway Center)
Book Launch Party: The Exodus–Saga Of Davi Rhii by Bryan Thomas Schmidt
Friday 19:00 – 19:50, St. Clair A & B (DoubleTree – Collinsville)
Come discover the trilogy Barnes and Noble named a Year’s Best and Jonathan Maberry, Mike Resnick and others said captures the feel of classic space opera like Star Wars! Buy signed books or 3 and enjoy pizza, soda, and snacks. Giveaways too!
Bryan Thomas Schmidt (M)
In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream: Horror Beyond the Stars
Friday 21:00 – 21:50, Salon 6 (Gateway Center)
Some of the scariest stories take place is space. Some of our favorites are Alien, Event Horizon, Pandorum, and Riddick. Come discuss the best and worst of horror in space (Jason X, anyone?).
Suzanne Cappelletti (M), Jim Yelton , Bryan Thomas Schmidt, Wyatt Weed
Editing: A Diamond in the Rough
Saturday 11:00 – 11:50, Marquette A (Gateway Center)
What does it take to turn a project from trash to treasure? An open discussion on the editing process.
This weekend is my annual trek to Kansas City for our local science fiction convention, ConQuest at the Downtown K.C. Sheraton. Guest of Honor is Robert J. Sawyer and Toastmaster Jonathan Maberry, and I will be spending time when not on panels at a dealer room table selling their books. So here’s where to find me outside the dealer room which is open as follows:
Special Guest: Amelie will be accompanying me much of the time.
A discussion of humorous tropes and stories down through SF history. Who are the key writers? What should you be reading? and more. Moderators: Bryan Thomas Schmidt Speakers: Robin Wayne Bailey, Selina Rosen
A discussion of the alien encounter trope through SF history in various media from literature to film and beyond. Moderators: Bryan Thomas Schmidt Speakers: Robin Wayne Bailey, James Gunn, Robert J. Sawyer, Ken Keller
Well, this weekend I make my first trip to Houston for COMICPALOOZA at the Convention Center in downtown.
This weekend, starting Friday at 3:30, see me at Comicpalooza booth #2632, Next to NASA in Hall C. (Click map to enlarge view.)
I will also participate in the following signings and panels:
Booth 3801/3809 – BARNES AND NOBLE BOOTH – SIGNING
FRIDAY MAY 12, 2017 2:30 PM TO 3:30 PM
ROOM 370D (literary Room 1) Teaching Old Tropes New Tricks
Saturday May 13, 2017 10:00 am to 11:00 am
You hear it over and over: Zombies are passé, superheroes are done – and don’t even think about saying the V-word. Yet we’re endlessly delighted when someone manages to give us a story that makes all our old favorites new again. What’s their secret? Join us and find out!
Panelists: Jim Butcher, Lev Grossman, Bryan Thomas Schmidt, William Ledbetter, Tex Thompson
Room 372D – The Science of Science Fiction
Saturday May 13, 2017 1:30 pm to 2:30 pm
What makes good Science Fiction? Is science actually required? How much? Panelists discuss various aspects and examples.
Panelists: Bryan Thomas Schmidt, C. Stuart Hardwick
Room 370F – Finding an Agent: When, How, and Why
Sunday May 14, 2017 10:00 am to 11:00 am
If you want to see your book stocked at Barnes & Noble, chances are you need a literary agent. But that doesn’t mean one is essential for every writer seeking traditional publication – or that just any agent will do. In this panel, we’ll discuss when to seek representation and how to do it professionally, responsibly and efficiently – without tearing your hair out!
Panelists: Cassandra Rose Clarke, Wren Michaels, Bryan Thomas Schmidt, Mari Mancusi, B. Alan Bourgeois
BOOTH 3801/3809 – BARNES AND NOBLE BOOTH – SIGNING
Sunday, May 14, 11:00-12 NOON
Room 370F – From Pen to Pulse Rifle: Writing Good Military Science Fiction
Sunday May 14, 2017 1:00 pm to 2:00 pm
From Heinlein to Drake, military science fiction has always had a strong following. There are tricks to writing good military sci-fi, however. This panel will provide pointers and tips on how to write compelling military science fiction, convey futuristic military technology and tactics concepts, project trends in near-future and far-future military developments and describe what goes into the writing process.
Panelists: Bryan Thomas Schmidt, Breandan Ó’Ciarraí, K. M. Tolan, Marshall Ryan Maresca, Wayne Basta
I will have copies of most of my books there for sale at discounts. I look forward to seeing everyone.
Here’s my schedule for ARCHON 40 in St. Louis, at the Collinsville, IL Convention Center, Friday September 30 – Sunday, October 2, 2016. Guests of Honor include Ellen Datlow, John Picacio, and Claudia Christian.
I am not sure if anyone else will carry my books but usually Larry Smith and Glen Cook have a few in the dealer’s room. I will have my own and sell them on my autographing time Saturday for sure.
Bryan Thomas Schmidt
Advice For New Writers
Mark W. Tiedemann (M), Ellen Datlow, Lynn Rosen, Bryan Thomas Schmidt, Richard C. White
Bryan Thomas Schmidt
Ellen Datlow (M), Julia S. Mandala, Christine Amsden, Bryan Thomas Schmidt, Claire Ashgrove
Bryan Thomas Schmidt
Autographs with Angie Fox, Bryan Thomas Schmidt, and Ethan Nahté
Bryan Thomas Schmidt
Classic Sci-Fi TV Marella Sands (M), Van Allen Plexico, Bryan Thomas Schmidt, David Phelps
Bryan Thomas Schmidt
Libraries of the Future
Susan Baugh (M), Paul Hahn, Bryan Thomas Schmidt
Bryan Thomas Schmidt
The First Five Pages: How to Hook Your Reader Cindy Matthews (M), Bryan Thomas Schmidt, Michales Joy, Shawntelle Madison, Jimmy D. Gillentine