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.