Don’t Paint a Picture, Build a Holodeck!

Posted: November 9, 2016 in Writing
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I was out from work on Monday because of illness. I asked the substitute in my class to instruct my creative writing class to write a description of the favorite place that they have taken a trip to, then pass it to the person behind them and see if they can draw a picture of that scene. Today, the students informed me that she said that they could also describe a place that they would like to visit. I wasn’t annoyed at the substitute for that, but it did kind of crush what I was trying to tell the students.

I tried to give them an example of how different a description can be when you’ve experienced something by talking about one of my vacations. I don’t think that it quite clicked. Instead, I had them take a tally of how many things in their description appealed to each of the senses. Once they did that, I collected their numbers and showed them the results. It confirmed what I thought. Visual descriptions outnumbered all of the others two-to-one.

You may have heard that when you write a scene, you should paint a picture for your reader. Humans are, after all, very visually-oriented creatures. When you send a friend to find someone, the first thing that they ask is what the person looks like. A good visual description can go a very long way in creating a wonderful scene. Still, we leave the other senses out of the fun, and they really want to play!

Many people can take a quick look on the internet and write a pretty good visual description of Washington, D.C. on a Saturday, but don’t you feel more like you are there when they start talking about the smell of the food from the food trucks? Everyone enjoys a good description of a sunset at the beach, but describing that distinct difference between the feeling of dry and wet sand on your feet as you walk along really sells the scene. I enjoy watching a movie as much as anyone, but I would much rather take part in a holodeck adventure that engages all of my senses!  (If you don’t know what a holodeck is, please watch an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. You owe it to yourself!)

You certainly don’t have to travel to every location that your writing takes place in. That would be very impractical. But by engaging all of the senses when setting your scene, you allow your reader to travel to all of the locations of your writing, and isn’t that the whole point?


Featured image courtesy of


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