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September 20, 2010

Enhancing Description . . . The Emotional Filter

Photo by Malingering

We've all written scenes that fall flat despite descriptive detail, good dialogue, and fluid pacing.  "Show don't tell," is oft-quoted advice, but showing isn't always enough.  To give a scene more impact, filter the details through your main character's senses, interpreting the scene as he or she would given past experience and personality.

Here's an example:

Simple description:
Patricia stepped into the smoke-filled tavern and looked around.  Country music blazed on the speakers mounted above the antique bar, which was lined with men in cowboy hats and preppy button-down shirts.   She looked at their boots as she approached the bar.  Every pair gleamed like it was brand new.

"Beer," she told the bartender, who smiled at her. "Something dark."

With Emotional Filter:
Stepping into the smoke-filled tavern, Patricia waved away the stale cloud that wafted in front of her face and held her breath, preparing to dive in.  Country music blazed on the speakers above the antique bar.  She fought the urge to plug her ears and wondered whether the faux cowboys, in their perfectly-shaped Stetsons and preppy button-down shirts actually enjoyed Garth Brooks at an ear-splitting volume.  Approaching the bar, she eyed their boots.  Polished leather and unworn heels, every pair looked fresh out of the box.  Typical, she thought.

"Beer," she told the bartender, a fellow wearing a string tie about as authentic as his smile. "Something dark."

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