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Friday, 10 July 2015 12:01

Spying vs. Eavesdropping - Using Your Dominant Sense When Writing

Written by
Hull, MA, USA Hull, MA, USA

Because we engage with the world via our senses, writers are often urged to use all the senses when writing description. But for getting a first draft down on paper it could be better to focus on just one.

Each of us has a dominant sense in processing information about our experience. For the majority of people that sense is vision; for the second largest group it’s hearing.

Having been part of the same critiquing group for last 15 years, I’ve had a fabulous opportunity to observe the different ways our members go about writing a first draft. I’ve become convinced each person’s dominant sense plays a big role in their creative process.

For example, when one of our members writes a scene she has to be able to ‘see’ it first. Before she can begin to write, she has to visualize clearly not just the place, but the season, the time of day, the angle and quality of the light, as well as her characters’ actions and appearance. 

In total contrast, my first drafts are almost entirely dialogue. Being strongly hearing-dominant, I don’t need to know what my characters are doing, what they look like or even where they are. I just put them together and listen to what they say to each other.

For me this approach is hugely enlightening. The way a person speaks gives me all sorts of clues about who they are – their age, education, nationality, region of upbringing, attitudes, morals, socio-economic background, emotional outlook and much much more.

If you doubt this, think of all the different ways there are to say ‘yes’. From a military person’s crisp ‘affirmative’ to Ned Flanders’ ‘Okally Dokally’. Each version gives a clear insight into character.

I believe that knowing your dominant sense can help you as a writer creating your first drafts. If you’re not having any luck ‘seeing’ your scene, try 'hearing' it instead. 

Some of us like to spy on her characters, others like to eaves-drop.

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