Each of us is accustomed to taking in information, to learning, in our own way. Some people learn things by doing. For example, a mechanic might learn how to use his hands to manipulate wrenches and screwdrivers so that he can tear apart a car engine, virtually in the dark. While another person might find it easier to watch someone else do it and then try to replicate the process.
If you’re a person who learns by doing, you’re what is called a “kinetic” learner. If you learn well by listening to instructions, you may primarily be an “audio” learner. If you learn by watching others, you are a “visual” person. And if you process information by smell, then “scent” may be important to you.
Now, both you and your readers have a learning style. Of the typical human population, people take in information in the following ways:
So you as a reader have a preference for how you learn information. And you as a writer have a bias in how you present information. Subconsciously, you might be great at giving certain kinds of details, but less aware of others. For example, if you’re a visual learner, you will most likely describe what your protagonist sees when he enters a room. However, if you’re a poor kinetic learner, you probably won’t describe how the protagonist moves very carefully.
This can lead to a disconnect with your readers. If you’re an audio person, you might describe very well what your protagonist hears, but a person who learns visually will feel that you aren’t providing enough visual details.
This is one reason that a reader might feel that a story is unclear. You think you’re writing great—but they find themselves confused.
So you might want to look carefully at your own writing. When you open a scene, do you explain where your character is and what he is doing? That’s important to people who learn kinetically. Do you let the reader know what the protagonist hears in the background? Hey, as an audio learner, that’s imperative to me. How about what the character sees and smells?
If you want to appeal to 100 percent of the readers, you have to appeal to all four of these senses on just about every page.
But very few writers appeal to the major senses on a regular basis. For example, I was looking at a story yesterday by a writer who is strongly “audio.” She wrote dialog beautifully, as far as the voices and words of the characters went. But she never described what the protagonist could see. She never described the characters she was speaking to—their faces, height, hair color or costumes. Stories like that will leave us readers with the feeling that the characters are just “talking heads.” So even though the audio was great, the story was written in such a way that 80 percent of the population will feel that it is lacking.
The easiest way to overcome this problem is to make sure that when you are writing, you remember to use the KAV cycle. In each paragraph, describe what the character is doing, hearing, and seeing in that order, and frequently add in what the character smells.
Professional speakers who study neuro-linguistic programming learn how to do this. For example, when President Obama talks, he tries to reach a wide audience by using the KAV cycle. Here is a paraphrase of a speech he gave last year.
Kinetic—I flew down to Louisiana last week . . .
Audio—because I had heard the cries of those who were still suffering from loss some ten years after Hurricane Katrina had landed
Visual—and I wanted to see for myself the destruction that was left, the abandoned homes with their mouldering walls and sagging roofs. . . .
Which of course then leads to another KAV cycle where he promises “So I have decided to fix this problem. . .” and so on.
But you aren’t the president. You don’t have the thousands of dollars to get trained in how to use neuro-linguistic programming in your writing.
So here is a tip: when you are writing, your goal is to create enough imagined sensory input for your reader so that they forget that they’re reading and instead find themselves “living through the story.” This means that you must substitute the sights, sounds, smells, movements, thoughts and emotions that they’re feeling with those of your protagonist.
In order to learn where you are weak in your own work, take a look at some of your prose—say five pages of a story that you’ve written. Study it to see where you are appealing to those four major senses—kinetic, audio, visual, and smell. If you find that you’re leaving out a sensory detail, say your character’s motions, then go through and add kinetic appeals wherever they are needed, and so on.
This is the last week to register for my workshop, Writing Beautiful Prose, which will be held in Phoenix, Arizona February 20-24, 2017. This is my most ambitious workshop to date. You don’t want to miss it! You can find it on the Live Workshops page at www.mystorydoctor.com