Matthew Hughes is a Canadian author who writes impeccable science fiction and fantasy. His very nicely laid out website is called Archonate, a universe he’s created in which many of his tales take place. Matt’s first book came out in 1994 and he’s been going great guns ever since.
He has numerous novels and short stories, which are listed on his site. I reviewed The Damned Busters and found the tale masterful and entertaining. Matt’s characters Luff Imbry and Henghis Hapthorn I’ve met once each, in short stories. He does characterization deftly and sets his scenes well.
If you love a good tale, and intriguing mystery and a witty character, you’ll find these in many of Matt’s stories. With his long and varied career of writing everything from speeches to novels, he has many a good piece of advice to give. Matt wrote the following as a good way to set your character in a concrete world. Perhaps it was no accident that concrete plays a part. Read on if you’d like to learn more about writing.
WRITING FROM WITHIN THE POV CHARACTER’S SENSORIUM
I’ve mentioned before that you can get a stronger identification between the reader and the point-of-view character if you describe setting and events from within the character’s sensorium – i.e., how things feel to the character’s sense of sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell.
A lot of beginners write from outside the character, standing back and describing everything as if they were seeing it on a screen, relying almost exclusively on how things look, with occasional sound cues. It’s an easy way to get lots of words down. It can also be a hard habit to break.
So here’s an exercise: have your point-of-view character awaken in complete darkness, with no idea of where he/she is. Then have him/her explore that environment with the other senses. Don’t put down any descriptor that involves sight or that the character does not experience directly.
Something like this:
At first, I wasn’t sure I was awake. Blackness was absolute. I could see nothing but splashes and dots of color thrown up by my own optic nerves.
I was lying face down on something cold and hard. I levered myself up, felt grit rub against my knees. I groped around me with both hands, my fingertips finding a rough level surface. Concrete, I thought. I reached as far as I could in all directions without moving, found nothing but more floor.
I rested on my heels and listened. Nothing but the high-pitched whine of silence. But I felt a cold stir on the back of my neck, a
whisper of air moving the fine hairs. I shivered. I wet a finger and held it above my head, felt a chill on one side. The movement of air was from my left. I listened for a fan, but heard nothing.
While my hand was elevated, I felt for a ceiling. For all I knew, I might be in some low crawl space, with more concrete to bruise my head if I stood up. Hands aloft, I slowly rose from my knees, but there was nothing above me but more cold air.
I faced the direction that the air current was coming from. Could be a vent, could be an ill-fitting door, a cracked window. Slowly, arms out in front of me, I took a step, then another, and a third. I stopped and listened again, heard nothing. But I could feel the current of air cooling my face.
I took three more steps, putting the ball of my foot down first, then the heel – less chance of slipping that way. Then a fourth step and my foot came down on something small and hard. I stooped and felt for it, my fingers encountering an irregular shape, though flat on one side. I rolled it between my fingers, lifted it to my nose but smelled only dust.
I took another step, the moving air a little stronger now. There was an odor I associated with dank, dark places. I was deciding that the object I’d picked up was a piece of broken concrete. Useful, I thought. I could throw it ahead of me and listen for it to hit something, even if it was only the floor.
I cocked my arm and threw the chunk of concrete as hard as I could. I heard it strike something a fair distance ahead, then more small sounds as it rolled and bumped. Big floor, I thought. I walked more quickly now, hands still out in front of me, moving from side to side. Just because the pebble hadn’t hit a wall didn’t mean I couldn’t walk right into a post or a pillar.
A few more steps, and my foot landed on something else. It turned out to be a bigger piece of concrete, the size of my palm. I threw it forward, too, and heard it strike the floor and skitter like the pebble, before it struck something with a hard click.
Wall, I thought. And the air flow was stronger now, along with the odor I associated with tombs and root cellars. A wall with a gap in it, letting in the smell of damp earth.
I groped forward, eager now, walking heel and toe. My feet encountered more debris. I kicked it aside. I wanted the wall. I took two more steps then a third. But on the last one, my heel came down on nothing. As I pitched forward, it came to me in a sudden useless insight: the moving air, the dank smell, the pieces of concrete scattered around; they all added up to a hole in the floor. And I was falling into it.