Vicarious Experience Depends on Description

photo by Bill Davenport descriptions written by masters like Chandler aren’t there so we know what a wing-back chair looks like or because the cigar smoke plays a role in the book.

Psychologically, statistically, we are conscious of less than 1% of what we experience. The other 99% goes to our unconscious, bypassing our conscious mind.

But we still experience it.

If I don’t know that your protagonist is a little chilly, or that the drapes are green, or the woman at the next table is wearing flats instead of heels, how will you connect with my unconscious, touch my memories, dredge up what I’m afraid of, or willing to fight, or fight for?

Chandler wrote great long paragraphs of what most authors would call “description.”

Guess which author has the most recognizable voice in mystery, and one of the most recognizable in all of fiction, perhaps second only to Dr. Seuss?

Chandler didn’t describe the scenes, he gave your unconscious the wherewithal to be in the scene.

Provide vicarious experience. It’s a fundamental purpose of writing. Vicarious can’t be superficial.

Any writer who skips description should either slow down, or read better quality books. Read Chandler. Read Dickens. Read Craig Johnson’s Longmire books — you will be in Wyoming, not just picture it in your mind.

One of the things I got almost right in Through the Fog is the sense of place. The story is too simple by half, but folks who’ve been to that part of Ireland feel the breeze and smell the grass and oak and the chips frying across the street in the pub.

Do you write description? Do you read it?

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