Screw Sight. Let’s talk about the Other Four Senses

Bird BoxToday I finished reading Bird Box, Josh Malerman’s (very recently pubbed) debut novel. I’m a lover of creepy reads. I write some blood-soaked fiction myself. But Malerman’s book is a whole ‘nother level of scary.

Brief synopsis: Mallory lives in a world that has gone mad. If she opens her eyes and looks outside, she may see something that drives her to kill herself and possibly others. So Mallory and her children blindfold themselves and try to survive.

This isn’t a book review. I’ve done that on Goodreads already. But I’ve got to say that this book and Malerman’s writing is absolutely bone-chilling. There of course are sections of the book where Mallory and the rest of the cast use their eyes. They see the house, they see the blankets over the windows. The sleep-with-the-light-on creepiness comes when Mallory et al. have blindfolds on and are negotiating the outside world. When there is a soft, wet footstep in the grass. When a stick cracks. When the birds begin to caw and cackle above at something that’s approaching. For me, Malerman’s approach is fantastic because at several points throughout the story, I was creeped the hell out even though I was driving in the middle of the day in full sunlight. Although my eyes were open…

But why talk about it? Many times in my writing I catch myself describing a room’s tiniest details, or the way a character is dressed. Or I talk about the landscape in a way that makes it visible to the reader. That’s all well and good, but what Bird Box made me realize is that the other senses can be just as scary… or effective, depending on your genre. The children in the story are trained to hear the difference between a smile and a grimace on their mother’s face. Why can’t I be trained to focus on the sound of my scenes, or the smells, or even the way blood feels between the pads of two fingers as I write?

Beyond just recommending you read Bird Box, this is a reminder to me (and you can take it and use it, or not) to reconsider how a character would approach a scene. How a character would experience a moment other than just what he is seeing. And beyond that: you’ve got to USE it.

Caution: Don’t read this book after dark. And as Malerman says: “Don’t Open Your Eyes.”


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