Dave’s Question…

Okay, Dave has asked me how much walking or digging in my garden influences my writing?

Answer: Not much. (smile) Victoria is the gardener, and she is an excellent one. You might want to ask her about the influence on her, since she does have a garden in her new book that’s coming out, the sequel to The Burning Land, titled The Awakened City. The garden is a minor, but important setting in the book. (Which I’ve read, being a beta reader. It’s EXCELLENT!)

I will, however, talk about how places I’ve been have influenced my writing. I don’t actually take notes, but I have an excellent memory. I can close my eyes and call up my sensations, my perceptions, when I visited a place or experienced something I could use in my writing.

For example, if anyone in here has read Storms of Destiny, my newest book, you’ll notice there are a lot of scenes that take place aboard sailing vessels. Once character even goes through a typhoon out on the deck of an old fashioned sailing vessel.

My dad had a salboat, and I used to go sailing with him on the Chesapeake Bay. I’ve experienced a bad thunderstorm out on the water. Sailing with my dad is where I learned the sensory details that, I hope, helped me create the illusion of reality for Storms.

In creating the illusion of reality, the devil is indeed in the details. You have to know just how much to include. You have to learn to edit out the extraneous or the overkill. You have to learn to use ALL FIVE OF YOUR SENSES. Most beginning writers just focus on describing the visual. That is fine, so far as it goes.

But in describing a ship under sail, it helped me so much to have actually sailed. To get the “period” feel of a larger vessel, I relied on my memories of visiting. period ships, like Old Ironsides, the replica of the Ark, here in Maryland, and the replica of the Mayflower in Plymouth.

I know what it sounds like to hear the rigging creaking, and the sails filling with wind. I know what it’s like to duck when the boom swings over in a brisk wind, and the boat suddenly heels over until the gunwales are almost in the water. In visiting the period vessels, I have gazed at those tiny hammocks and bunks, and shivered at the imagined sound of the rats scurrying and chewing at night. I’ve imagined the bedbugs and other vermin, and scratched as my skin twitched in sympathy.

I know what it sounds like to hear a cannon or a musket fired, and what the stench of the burned powder is like. I know how much smoke they belch out.

All of these things go into creating the illusion of reality.

I also know what it feels like to ride a horse at a full gallop, to jump downed trees, how the horse smells when it sweats, and the harsh sound of its breath laboring if it gallops uphill. (Of course I’ve never pushed a horse as hard as Jezzil pushed Falar in Storms! But I know what it would feel like.)

I’ve walked on a glacier. I’ve hiked in the mountains, and washed my hands in a mountain stream. I’ve camped there. I have cooked outside, over an open fire. I know how much brighter the stars are in the wilderness. I’ve shivered, trying to get dressed when the ground is silvered with frost.

All of these sensory details go into my writing, in one way or another. They came in very useful during the writing of Storms of Destiny, because it’s epic fantasy. They’ll continue to be useful during the sequel, Winds of Vengeance.

Now…what do you do if you can’t experience something? I have never stood on the bridge of the Enterprise as it hurtles into warp drive, for example.

Well, obviously, here’s where you must call upon your imagination, coupled with lots of research.

Remember, use ALL of the five senses. When I finish a chapter in a book, during one of my edits, I concentrate on locating visual description and seeing if any of it can be changed to utilize another of the five senses.

Happy writing, my friends. Next post, I’ll address Maggie’s question about how I think various scams will affect, or have affected, the writing world.

-Ann C. Crispin


  1. Ahhh…but what if you really have been on the bridge of the starship Enterprise as it goes into warp?….

  2. Ann–my in-laws live on the Chesapeake Bay and I have spent many hours sailing on their boat. When we lived in Philly, we used to sail nearly every weekend. One of my favorite places in the world and sadly, I’m too far away now for more than the occasional summer visit.

    Hubby and I once got caught in a horrible, sudden squall and fought for control of the boat for hours until we were forced to drop an anchor just to keep from being blown like a piece of driftwood. We were fortunate–listening to the coast guard reports was chilling–a boater died that day.

    A wonderful essay on using all the senses. That’s one of the things I tell novice poets all the time. That and to let strong descriptive verbs move the writing forward rather than adjectives.

  3. Wonderful explanation Ann, you brought back fond memories of many of the things I love best.

    I think to bring experiences to life on the page we first need to experience life–in all its glorious, gritty, beautiful and terrible wonder.

    Thank you for affirming that for us all.

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MARCH 11, 2006

Choose Your Own Topic – Here’s Your Opportunity!

MARCH 21, 2006

Maggie’s Question