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Exercise: Lights off!

These exercises were written by IWW members and administrators to provide structured practice opportunities for its members. You are welcome to use them for practice as well. Please mention that you found them at the Internet Writers Workshop (http://www.internetwritingwor kshop.org/).

Prepared by: Rhéal Nadeau

Posted on: Sun, 25 Nov 2001

This exercise falls into the "Involving the senses" series.

Involving all the senses is a powerful tool to liven up our writing and draw in the reader. Too often, however, writers limit themselves to visual descriptions and dialogue. This yields a world with no taste, no smell, no texture.

One way to explore the senses is to imagine what things would be like without them. So for this exercise, write a scene where the character(s) can't see, for whatever reason (blindness, darkness, whatever.) How would that person perceive the world? (This exercise is similar to one we did in February, involving total silence.)

Try to use all the other senses: smell, taste, touch, hearing.

Recommended word limit: 300 words.

Rhéal Nadeau's wrap-up

This was not an easy exercise. We are so used to using visuals, or even simply labels, in our writing that it is hard to take a step back and try to write without using sight.

I remember speaking with a friend who had been blind since birth. Somehow, the topic of guns came up, and his comment was "I have no idea what a gun is like."

Even for us with sight, how do we recognize a gun? How would we recognize it in the dark? (And the word "gun" covers such a range, from tiny one-shot pistols that can be hidden in an hand to massive artillery.) And yet, somehow, it's easy to think that if I use the word "gun" when writing, people will know what I mean.

Many of the submissions did a good job of using the senses other than sight to bring a scene to life. Others struggled, though. Information sneaked in that would only have been available through sight (or without showing how the character could identify an object.) Some scenes stressed the absence of sight, but without providing other sensory information. Some of the subs, as a result, felt as if they were being narrated rather than experienced - the author telling us what was going on (even when the point-of-view character would not have been able to understand the situation that easily.)

To summarize: because the exercise was difficult, the results were mixed. That's fine - we're here to learn, and I hope the difficulties of this exercise will help us all learn more about how to present a situation using the various senses. And the results demonstrate that this is a topic worth working on, so I hope to run a follow-up exercise before too long.

As always, congratulations to all those who submitted their efforts, and thanks to those who took the time to critique them.


Web site created by Rhéal Nadeau and the administrators of the Internet Writing Workshop.
Modified by Gayle Surrette.