So what are the pitfalls and mistakes we can easily slip into when bringing our senses into our oral stories?
This blog completes a series of four posts all about using sensory details in oral stories. I am trying some structure in my blog posts, choosing a topic related to oral storytelling and looking at it from a few different angles, over four weeks. So here are four common mistakes we can make in using senses in storytelling.
Too much detail:
The reality is that there is an infinite amount of detail we can include in describing something or someone. And just as we can feel compelled to include too much back story, perhaps interesting but irrelevant to the story, we can find ourselves describing details for too long. And when we do that, our story begins to stall, because description doesn’t move a story along, it fills it out, paints a pictures but it doesn’t move. And a story must move.
Detail in the wrong places:
I know in the last post I used the example of a detail that was not material to the story, but it wasn’t irrelevant, it drew my attention in to a very specific scene where the protagonist meet his nemesis, the red haired woman’s daughter. The red haired women wasn’t material to the meeting, but the use of sensory detail at this point brought my focus to the significance of this meeting. The detail wasn’t about the nature of the forest, or the balmy weather, or the type of house, but about the meeting of the two main characters. If we think of our detailing like the zoom lens of a filmmaker, we know that something that is being highlighted is something we need to pay attention to. If we don’t need to pay attention, don’t draw the audience’s attention to it.
Lack of balance in the detail:
When it comes to senses we are a sight dominated species. Even our imagination is full of images and we ‘see’ the story unfolding in our minds eye, so there is definitely a tendency for us to focus our story details on the visual sense. And because our eyes and our imagination are in our head, a focus on sight can stop us moving out of our heads and into our body, and it in the body that we come into a visceral, felt experience.
Too much flowery language:
A love of language, in both the written form and as words roll around your mouth, is very common amongst those of us drawn to oral storytelling. But we can be too clever by half, and over describe something, or have so many picture perfect phrases in our stories that we have lost our fluidity in telling, attached to detailing words rather than describing what we experience. Keep it simple, a few deft words here and there will do the trick.
So there it is, four main ways we can miss the mark with the use of sensory detail. Having a go and messing it up is always better than not having a go. As always take your cue, your feedback from the audience reaction.
I’d love to hear your experiences, of times you’ve heard or told, great or distracting use of sense details, so please comment.
Image under Creative Commons via Flickr