Sometimes the only way you can see it in a book…
…is for the writer to include it.
I have a very critical eye, especially when it comes to movies. If water, mud (or blood!) hits the camera lens, then the magic is broken for me.
Likewise, if we are, in our reading, experiencing the days of yore… e.g., the old west, or medieval times, the last things I expect to “see” are clean peasants, freshly starched cowboys, or clean shaves and haircuts. Any understanding of the past history of our little orb tells you that even regular bathing is a fairly new thing.
The floor of a cave is not smooth. The surface of the bar in the saloon will be scarred and pitted, discolored and abused. Boots will be muddy, scuffed, and oh, so very worn. The knight’s armor may be somewhat shiny, but it won’t be chrome steel. His blade will have nicks, and everyone will all have bad teeth.
Now it is true that unless you actually point out these little truths in your written narratives, your reader must make the scene for him- or herself.
I ask you, which do you prefer? Would you rather have knights in shining armor riding pristine white horses, or would you be happier if the horses sweat and foam at the bit? Do your old-time heroes need to have perfect teeth, or do they have gaps in their smile, and do they wince when they bite into a bone?
Are you looking for truth or beauty? Can truth be beauty?
It is very difficult for us to go beyond our present culture when we write about other times. Warlords may have killed babies, but we wince at the idea. The idea of beating a man to death for his boots may appall you, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.
In his book, “On Writing” (the second half of which is outstanding), he admonishes us to “tell the truth!”, and while doing so may sometimes make you groan, I can think of no better advice for a writer.
I have often reflected that the graphics in the old radio plays were better (by far) than even the best CGI of today. Many people miss my meaning, but that’s OK. This time I am saying that if you want the reader to have a specific experience, you must draw that experience (in the main) for him. While we cannot manage what cultural bias and baggage a reader brings to the experience of our writing, we can nudge them in the right direction.
The greater the verisimilitude in fiction, the greater the impact upon the reader.