03 April, 2013


I've always been a fan of a stories that do more than just give me a written word, because I think there's a primordial, fundamental human need to engage all five senses (six, seven, whatever you subscribe to). Just as in a book, there're real life dangers to individuals who are deprived of one sense or more. Someone with a head cold who has a stuffy nose might not smell the gas leak in the kitchen. Another without their vision in a dark room might bruise themselves on that coffee table they'd moved earlier that night. A deaf boy playing near the railroad tracks won't hear the train.

Given the human condition, the remaining senses will compensate. This is true when reading a novel. A line of text will mention that the teenagers went to a house party -- we automatically imagine the cacophony of rampant teens yelling to be heard above a stereo cranked to the max. A different line of text mentions a group of teenagers going to a debutantes' ball -- our imagination shifts from chaos to refinement, lovely gowns and tuxedoed men, and elegant dances.

It depends upon the skill of the author of how well they can control their readers' perceptions. Going back to the house party, they could add the details of a section of manicured bushes recently replaced and growing to fill the space left void by the last house party drunkard who'd collapsed into them.

The debutantes' ball could tell us more about the people -- dandelion and daisy bouquets instead of roses, quilted tablecloths made from sundresses past, and water pitchers give us a drastically different picture than the one we originally had. We might now think instead that this is a low-budget imitation of a ball put on by a small town, or alternatively we might imagine not a debutantes' ball, but a church social or fundraiser meant to emulate the style.

These descriptions shape our imagination, or at least give direction. Think of what you could do with a well-placed onomatopoeia. You could go back to the house party and add the oppressive untz untz untz that beats arrhythmic to a person's heart and makes it too uncomfortable for them to stand anywhere near the speakers. Go add a tootle-to-to-to-tootle-tooo to the debutantes' ball, and that reed becomes enchanted, hinting that this is instead a party of the Fair Folk.

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Ash Litton

Ash Litton is a writer and lover of sci-fi, fantasy, and all things fictional. She is the author of Thoroughbred, Evening Hallow, Comeuppance, and Cabover Cabaret, and works on other Appalachian Dream Tales between her ongoing novel projects. She's also written No Diet, No Surgery, No Sweat, an ebook chronicling her weight-loss journey.

When she's not writing, she's drawing, and when she's not doing either of those, she's dreaming up new projects to work on. Born and raised in rural West Virginia, Ash has always wondered what things lay hidden in the hills around her. She attended West Virginia University, where she studied the English language before returning home to her family in rural West Virginia.