Sunday, December 13, 2009
Writing Tip of the Day - Engaging the Senses: Sight
Engaging the Senses: Sight
By Brenna Lyons
Everyone tells you to engage the senses, to show instead of tell. But the question remains - and many authors get it wrong - can the POV character sense it?
Let’s start with sight. Whether or not the character can see something is more than line of sight and body orientation, which you can block out on graph paper, if necessary. Remember, barring a mirror or other reflective surface, a person can only see 65-80 degrees in either direction from center line of the body, without moving the head.
What else should you take into account?
Height advantage - Increases your distance (barring other mitigating factors) but changes the angle you see things from and decreases your ability to see in detail things at ground level. Caveat? Hills around you will still cut your ability to see at a distance, and you will have blind spots behind them.
Ambient weather and light conditions - A light rain or gloom won’t impede the character’s ability to see in the short run, but over distance, its effects are cumulative. In the same way, ambient light from a city at night can and does wash out large light sources you might otherwise see.
Obstacles - If you have no memory for your setting, try blocking it on paper. A character standing, facing east at a window with a cabinet at her right shoulder, cannot see the south side of the room. She sees the cabinet.
Distance to obstacle - Someone standing ten feet from a column can see around it to either side and only has a blind spot directly opposite her. Someone standing one foot from a column has a huge blind spot and just peripheral vision to sustain her, without moving her body or head. In the same way, if she’s standing face-to-face with another person, she cannot see the other’s face, belt, and shoes at the same time. That comes with greater distance.
Tunnel vision - The further back you are in a tunnel or hallway, the narrower your field of vision outside the mouth of the tunnel is. As you approach the mouth, your vision expands slowly. The same holds true for spy holes; a good spy hole will give you as much as 60 degrees of vision. Block it out with a protractor, if necessary.