On Sunday, the New York Times printed an opinion piece by Annie Murphy Paul about the neuroscience of fiction–how writing that includes certain descriptive words or phrases can produce increased activity in a reader’s brain. Writers should take a look at this article and use it to improve their writing.
The article stated that words that appeal to smell, touch, or motion light up the readers’ brains as if they were actually smelling, touching, or moving themselves. The article also states that no extra brain activity was recorded when a reader saw cliche phrases, such as the phrase “rough day.” Therefore, this idea should encourage writers to use more sensory-based metaphors and description in their writing, but writers should be careful not to rely on cliches. Obviously, this is not new writing advice, but it is interesting to see the neuroscience justify the writing advice.
So get creative with your descriptions. Appeal to a variety of senses, not just sight. Use creative metaphors to make a striking turn of phrase. Light up the brain of your reader.
Now, don’t think neuroscience will trick your reader. This isn’t some way to dupe an editor or anything. I’m talking brain activity, not hypnosis. Good writing still trumps all. But remember, when a reader picks up a book, he or she is interacting with the writer. By increasing a reader’s brain activity, a writer can producer a more complex interaction that will draw your reader deeper into your story–the goal of every writer. Neuroscience is your friend.