This past weekend, my daughter had a photo shoot. We watched YouTube videos to learn about makeup (I never really learned how to do it, and I still wear little more than mascara), and a common refrain was this: “layer in your color, blending, to deepen or soften the effect; keep adding color until you achieve the desired look.” Yes! That’s it.
When I write a story, I layer in elements to create texture in my writing, for example description; I work my way through the senses, blending and smoothing, until I deepen or soften the elements to achieve the desired impact on the reader. In my second published story, I needed to evoke a strong sense of imminent danger. Brooding skies, crashing waves, and icy, pelting rain allowed me to send the reader on a journey, one designed to make her uncomfortable at first, then apprehensive, and eventually terrified. Unpredictable, unpleasant weather and cold temperatures helped!
As I write this post, I’m sitting with a warm furry cat snuggled up beside me. She’s beautiful (really, all cats are) with her silky fur in a multitude of colors, tickly long whiskers, and rough little tongue with which she delivers the occasional “kiss.” Her colors and textures, along with her princess attitude, make her interesting, appealing. We’re reclining together, Bastet and I, on the most delightful blanket, which has a subtle raised pattern of linked hexagons, and there’s a huge (and unnecessary, according to my husband) pile of pillows behind us. The pillows vary in color and fabric and size, but the theme is ocean. There’s a gentle breeze wafting over us from a fan on the floor. My bedroom is full of layers, and those layers create a texture, a depth, to the environment that makes it interesting to me. In this case, the goal is a warm, cozy, and welcoming space, a retreat.
Would I include all of those details in a story? It depends on what I wish to accomplish. If I want to settle my reader into a cozy space with my protagonist, then yes, I just might. How much I include will affect whether the reader can successfully enter the scene with my characters, or simply remain on the sidelines. Much like a chef adds layers of flavor to a meal, to emphasize or diminish certain ingredients, writers use texture to evoke emotions and create reactions from our readers.
For instance, in Jamaica Inn by Daphne Du Maurier, the author wrote:
“It was a cold grey day in late November. The weather had changed overnight, when a backing wind brought a granite sky and a mizzling rain with it, and although it was now only a little after two o’clock in the afternoon the pallor of a winter evening seemed to have closed upon the hills, cloaking them in mist.”
Brr! I’m already shivering, picturing a character in need of gloves and hat, or a warm fire in order to chase away the chill.
Writers work with a very flat medium, paper (or a screen), really. By using words to create texture, to add depth, dimension, flavor, action, and so much more, we take that flatness and build entire worlds for our readers. It’s magical!