Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Importance of Your Senses--Carol Ghattas

I have grown into writing over the years and have learned several things along the way. In writing books which tell a story, it is important to describe the environment in which the story takes place. This means you need to be able to share the sights, smells and sounds of the place to the reader. As you live in your neighborhood, begin to take notice of the things around you.

For instance, in Egypt we have people that come around the neighborhood every day shouting "ruba beckia." They are asking people to give them their old stuff so they can then resell it later. They have a unique cry, and their presence is such a part of everyday life, they would have to be included in any story about Egypt. Things like this are important to notice and remember as you begin to write.

A good rule of thumb is to write as if your reader will never experience the people or country you're sharing with them in the story; this will help you to be more deliberate in describing the details of each scene.

Another important factor in writing stories is language. The way people communicate with each other is unique, and even if you are writing in English, you will want to capture their use of vocabulary and sentence structure. One thing that caught my attention early in my life overseas was the way Arabs referred to family.

For instance, when a person is talking with his sister about their mother, he doesn't say, "my or our mother"; he says "your mother did so and so." He always refers to his own mother as the other person's, not his. I never got a good reason for this -- just that it was the way it was done. I tried to capture that in the conversations between characters in my book. We have to listen to the people around us, if our books are going to be realistic.

In general, writing takes work! I never had training in how to write fiction, but I've adapted since the beginning. The first book, I just sat and wrote. The story came out on its own. The second book, I thought more about what I wanted to include in the book and made an outline. I finished it in a much shorter time. The third book took a lot of research as I dealt with areas I was not necessarily submerged in through our ministry. I knew how the book should end before I knew how it should start.

For me, however, writing is not as difficult as "rewriting." The editing process is painful, because you have to step back and look at the whole thing objectively, which is not easy as a writer, but is worth it in order to have a more effective product.

I want to encourage you to use your senses to prepare a data bank of the world about which you want to write, then see where it takes you!

"A Glimpse of Your World" WRITING CHALLENGE: In the comment section, write a description (using all your senses) of the place where you are sitting, right now, reading this post. Try to keep to 100 words.


Stephanie said...

As I write my hands hurt just a bit because of the cold. I am finding it difficult to acclimate to the wet-to-the-bone feel of the cold here. I have been in much colder environments before, but not this wet! The wet-cold just seems to seep deep into my bones. I feel cold on the inside. I am beginning to long for my afternoon coffee. I can almost smell the brewing beans. Ah! The warmth it will bring my belly!! Mixed with the sounds of my children's piano practice, I hear can clearly hear the wind outside my window. Oh!--that wind!! I am grateful for the mild cold I feel inside. I thank the Lord for a home, a refuge from the cold.

Becky Aguirre said...

I am sitting at the computer desk in our 'office' tucked into a corner of the living room. We have a small apartment and little storage space, so the desk and bookshelf beside it are cluttered with all manner of books, school paper, files, jewel cases, electronics...

The Blue's Clue video my 2 year old is watching as he hangs out on the potty chair beside my desk (where I can keep an eye on him) cuts through the quiet of the morning. Other sounds that filter through the house are the hum of the computer tower, the whistling of the teapot, and the creaking of the ironing board where my husband is working on some clean laundry (yes, he irons!).

I am baking chocolate chip cookies today, so the apartment is filled with the sweet smells of baking.

Usually the living room is filled with sunshine as the morning sun peeks in our front windows, but since it's a cool, cloudy day the light is rather muted. It's a good day for baking. :)

, footsteps from the apartment upstairs, and

Shilo said...

South wind blows hot and tree branches whip the tin roof, their clang bang like overgrown chimes outside my window.
Snitches of dessert still linger in my mouth, sweet peaches and sweet memories of summers back home when boxes of fruit would line the counter ripening.
Boys happily exclaiming in the background, this crazy contraption we call the Wii, daddy's toy as much as children's. Cries of delight, groans of dismay, they long to be champions in their little world. They already are in mine.
Heart full of blessings...smile's optimistic upturn reveals what's in my heart.

CarolGhattas said...

Great work, Ladies! I felt the cold going through Stephanie's hands (can sympathize with that too!!); heard the sounds in Becky's home and could just about taste that wonderful peach dessert of Shilo! Keep those senses alert and keep writing!! Blessings, Carol

Chantelle said...

I sit outside of the house on our terrace, trying to escape the heat that is already baking the cement walls like we live in a clay oven. I sit on a soft cushion on the hard tile floor that is covered with traces of sand. The grit in my teeth, hair and morning tea reminds me that the Harmattan winds have not yet ceased beating down their fury on us. No one can escape the fine sand that seeks it’s way into every crack and crevice. Outside my little gate I can hear the schoolyard, filled with hundreds of children running around and laughing during their breaktime and the haunting call to prayer for the local mosque is just ending. I smell that unique mix of burning goat hair from my neighbours meal and the garbage laying in piles along the streets. Just another day in Niger!

CarolGhattas said...

Chantelle, I can identify with your sandy days, as we had many in the Middle East. When you talk about the sounds of the children or the call to prayer, try including something of what you hear--bits of conversations or yelling. The the "Allah Al-Akbar", etc from the mosque. Can you describe what burning goat hair smells like? I was trying to imagine it--not an easy smell to capture, but maybe you could get some of the food smells described in detail. Great setting, try to get the "flavors" to come alive for anyone who has never been to Niger. Hope that helps. Carol


Im sitting in bed cozy but my brain is running somewhere outside looking for words to grab. The electric warm blanket brings comfort soothing the cold away. The room is slightly dark with my bedside throwing my shadow on the brown wood cupboards. As the computer is plugged in only my bedside is brightly shining giving the feeling that it is putting a strong emphasis on what is happening here in front of it. I can hear the neighbors television playing one of those soap operas where the woman scream allot and the music make you nervous before something serious actually happens. Im tasting the sweet interesting taste of the Ikea pencil in my mouth and find my jaws tightly pressing my teeth as it sinks into the soft wood. As if it knows the thrill I'm feeling writing this. Probably will find the little pencil later and remember this fun moment. Our dear dog Punk is enjoying the warmth of the warm blanket filtering thru the duvet, she is in peace unaware of the event going on next to her, me being in the same comfort but in a different world.

CarolGhattas said...

I love your being in the same comfort but in a different world phrase...It's great to see how the writing experience gets you excited! Keep those efforts coming and the senses open! Great effort. Blessings, Carol

m said...

Curled up in a panda bear blanket that is way too thin, wearing jeans, long johns (top AND bottoms), a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sweat jacket my son gave me, and thick socks ... my feet are still freezing. I guess Crocs weren't a good choice of footwear when I went outside in the snow. My steaming cup of Starbucks warmed my hands but did nothing for my toes. Living in someone else’s home may always feel cold to me. Remnants of the previous occupant still remain, like that old lady smell that used to permeate my grandma’s house. Ugh! Have I turned into my grandmother?

CarolGhattas said...

M...Liked the idea of the steaming cup of Starbucks warming your hands but not your toes! I think you could do something great with the idea of living in someone else's house making you always feel cold, and the remnants of the previous occupants. We can all identify with that old lady smell! Keep working on getting those thoughts on paper! Blessings, Carol

Anonymous said...

It's only 4pm and the sun has begun its descent behind our Peruvian mountaintops. The tops of the mountains are finally looking mossy-green instead of desert-like. The breeze is slightly cool since it's coming off the ocean 10 miles away, visible from my upstairs bedroom window. I can hear the music from our camp playing and the shouts of children as they have begun to arrive for another week of summer camp. The birds are chattering outside, occasionally landing on my roof where I can hear them click-click as they attempt to walk up the slope. It smells vaguely of farm, but mostly just fresh summer. My full suitcases from our latest trip to the jungle are still sitting, open and full, on my floor. I can't seem to get myself to unpack them even though I'm so glad to be home. It's a day that I just want to relax and relish having a house to myself after one month of living with 15 co-workers on a construction trip. It's so peaceful; wish we could savor this forever.

CarolGhattas said...

Lisa, I can understand your hesitancy to unpack and settle into a house that sounds wonderful after a month in the jungle...once you do get unpacked, maybe try thinking about some of the jungle sounds and sights you collected and make a contrast to those in your house. Great job. Blessings, Carol

Sharon said...

The quiet is filled with electronic hums that warm our house and shrink my world.

The smell is to be savored as the aroma of breakfast sausage mingles with the confined winter air.

Then I open my eyes. I see clouds and snow that chill me to the bone.

Praise God for these senses that somehow make me content and thankful for provision during our home assignment, and still create a longing for the foreign land I have called home for so long.


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