“Grandpa, are you going to eat that spider?”
Spider? I never would have thought to describe a lobster as a spider like Charlotte did. Yet, this mere speck of a child provided a fantastic impression of that lobster. Her simple question paints a vivid image in my mind, one suggesting anxiety over what may be about to happen . . . a bit of trepidation mixed with awe and a little revulsion. That is fantastic writing!
We all know tension provides the rails on which a story’s conflict rides. It rises and drops, hopefully rising to a crescendo at the climax. It can even rise and fall thereafter during denouement as plot issues unwind, or perhaps, some under-explained subplot is intentionally left hanging as the setup for a sequel.
The art of description means we, writers, should avoid telling readers what to feel. Instead of saying a widow is grieving the loss of her husband, why not back the hearse up to the readers’ mental door and let them smell the flowers? Don’t tell the reader that the widow “could not speak” the final prayer as the coffin lid closed for the last time. Try describing that painful knot building deep in her chest and throat, denying her breath, as she mouths the words of the closing prayer, unable to utter a meaningful sound. Let the reader feel the widow's grief.
Same thing goes for horror, thriller, romance--all writing involves setting a scene and building tension through narration or dialog. Fear, titillation, compassion, disgust, outrage or any other emotion evoked by words should be experienced by the reader . . . not told to the reader. If there is any secret to great writing, it is this ability to craft words in such a way as to draw the reader into the situation and make them feel the tension on a personal level.
The next time I think about ordering lobster in a restaurant I will undoubtedly recall the spider analogy and its vivid imagery. Who knows? I might switch to the broiled halibut instead. Now, THAT’S an impact!