Welcome to my self-indulgent location for the stories (good and bad) that I can't prevent myself from writing. All comments and criticisms welcome. I post on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Juniper (#atozchallenge)

Welcome to today's post on the A-to-Z Blogging Challenge. My challenge, as I have chosen to accept it, is thus: I have asked on my Facebook and Twitter accounts for people to contribute random words beginning with today's letter. From Random.org, I have selected one of these words, and will below challenge myself to connect said word to writing.

For the letter J, I received 50 suggestions. Random.org selected number 10: juniper.


Close your eyes for a moment.

Wait, never mind. If you close your eyes, you can't read this. Eyes open. Read on.

Okay, so imagine (with your eyes open), that I've said "juniper" to you, and I show you this picture.

Image courtesy of Wiki Commons

And I ask you to describe juniper to me. Where do you start?

"Well, it's a tree, on which grow small, dark juniper berries..."

If you're anything like me, you start with the visual. As writers, we paint pictures in the mind. But sometimes, we forget that the mind's eye can do more than see.

How do juniper trees sound in the wind?

What do juniper trees smell like after an autumn rain? How do the berries smell  just after being picked?

How does the bark of the tree feel under your hand? The needles? What feeling do you get when you squish a berry between your fingers?

What do juniper berries taste like? (I won't ask about the bark.)

The picture we're painting for our readers is not static, and it's not only visual. There's so much more to a setting and a character than just how it/he/she looks. Does your sixteen-year-old male MC have BO? Does that twenty-something secretary (that your MC is screwing behind his wife's back) wear strawberry LipSmackers? Does your MC's sixty-two year old boss wear so much perfume that your MC prefers to walk the eight flights of stairs to the ground floor than take the elevator with her? (I bring this up only because I know this woman.)

Not yet convinced? Well, I'd like to leave you with this small scene from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, season 1, episode 8: I Robot, You Jane (not my favorite episode title). Unfortunately—and unsurprisingly—I couldn't find this clip on YouTube, but if you start at about minute 42:00 and let it play for about 1 minute, you'll get what I'm saying.

Don't have time to watch? The bottom line: things are better when they're smelly :)

Want more ideas on how to work smells into your writing? Check out this great post by Charity.

How do you describe your settings? Your characters? Do you try to add more than the usual visual content?

Today I'm taking suggestions for the letter P? Have any? Leave them below! Thanks :)


Jan Morrison said...

Juniper is a very evocative word for me. We Buddhists burn it in certain rituals and the smell is heavenly. As well, out my way, along the rocky coast, grow low juniper. The smell as you walk along is spicy and intoxicating...
thanks for the reminder of smell in writing!
Jan Morrison

Christine Murray said...

Wow,I saw juniper and I my first thought was not of all the beautiful things that you mentioned, but of gin.

Maybe I have a problem...

Siv Maria said...

We are lucky enough to have a big Juniper tree in our yard. I use the berries often when I am cooking game.

Carrie said...

Good post. I'm not sure how I'd describe how Juniper smells. Maybe I need to find more Juniper. It is important to be able to describe how things smell. I just smelled my first spring rain of the season the other day and it was wonderful.

Andrea Mack said...

I think the adding details related to smell really helps to bring more depth to writing.

Here's an idea of P: patterns

TheyCallMeVarmit said...

Really nice "J" post. Junipers, I have never tasted the berries, but I think they're lovely. I agree with you on how writers should do more than just tell what they see. Some writers cannot grasp that concept.

Hart Johnson said...

I always think of gin. Isn't gin made from juniper? That is the smell the word evokes anyway, is that piney, smell. I do like to play with smell in the writing. It is theoretically the sense most closely associated with memory, so I'm with Giles on this one.

Marjorie said...

I never thought about working smells into writing. I guess that's why I haven't written anything of consequence yet.

Margo Lerwill said...

I am reminded of the classic advice to make sure every page of a ms includes a sense other than sight. For description, I try to go with details that convey how the character feels about the place, so the description builds both the setting and the character. Lots of times, emotions about a place are tied to multiple senses, so this posts provides some good advice on several levels.

L'Aussie said...

I learned so much about the juniper. It's a lovely-sounding name I recall from the movie 'Benny and Joon.' Her real name was Juniper and I adore that movie!


L'Aussies Travel A-Z Challenge - J is for Japan

Her highness, Samantha VĂ©rant said...

Hmmm. With my scenes I paint enough of a picture with words to create the "world," but I still leave enough for the reader to imagine. It's all about balance, I think.

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