Tag Archives: details

#SaysTheEditor The Air Around Us


I was thinking about this one a few weeks ago, and it’s been rattling around my head ever since, so here it is.

Let’s talk about air. About the air around us. About how air feels.

I can see you, you know. Making those funny googly eyes at your screen, trying to figure out what the hell I’m talking about, why you should care, and how this can possibly be worth an investment of your time. Bear with me; it actually does make sense.

Like I said, I noticed it a few weeks ago. The seasons were finally starting to change, the nights finally getting cold enough that I had to close the skylights… earlier every night. And then finally, I couldn’t close them early enough and had to turn the heat on.

Now, I like having the skylights open. I love to be outside, and one of the reasons for that is the feel of the air. The way it touches my skin, and if you stop and think — REALLY think — you’ll realize you understand what I mean. The autumn air, when the skylights were open, put a nip into the air. Not the “it’s about to snow” nip, but a sharpness that plucked at my arms and invigorated me. And, a day later, when the heat was on and I stood at my kitchen sink — largely under those now-closed skylights — I realized that the temperature-controlled air had an entirely different feel on my bare arms. It was softer. Sanitized, somehow. It felt protected, safe, almost coddling, especially when I considered the state of the rest of the hurricane-ravaged world.

This post today isn’t to tell you that you have to use all five senses when you describe something in your fiction — that’s a newbie’s game, designed to get a young writer to think and push themselves beyond the usual he looked or he noticed type of convention. All too often, scenes that make sure they encompass all five senses aren’t well done because the focus turns from the scene to the inclusiong of the senses.

Rather, as a writer, you should be thinking about these things. How does the air feel as it brushes against your face, your arms, and can you relate that to your character? Note that in my descriptions above, I use emotions as well as concrete telling details — emotions such as protected and concrete details such as sharpness — and if you don’t see how something like coddling can be an emotion and not a concrete telling detail, you need to stop and think. It’s not always the word itself so much as what the word conjures for the reader.

And again, this doesn’t mean you need to stop and describe every last thing. Just the important details, the small points that bring the scene to life. For me, it was noticing the difference in the air as I stood in a familiar place and did a woefully too-familiar exercise. Everything else was routine, so part of my brain went and sought out what was different, what was notable.

Right there. That’s your key. When something’s familiar, what’s different? Can you bring that to life? Remember to make sure there’s a reason for this — unnecessary detail just to show off how you can flex your descriptive muscles is never sexy writing — but have at it. What can you notice that your reader will appreciate, that will enhance the scene or the story, that will help push your own writing to new heights?

Think about it. The air around you. How does it feel?