Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Incorporating The Five Senses into Our Writing

In order to sell our writing in this competitive market, we need to develop our work as fully as possible. Characters and settings take up the bulk of the plot. The more real, believable or imaginable both are, the easier it is for our readers to engage and want to continue reading.

Writers can easily describe the physical looks of a character or setting . . .a cattle ranch with a slim, hardened, tanned, cowboy and a petite, pale blond widow next door. If you draw the reader even closer into the scene by using touch, smell and taste to sight and sound, he engages more quickly because he has more information to form a picture in his head. Instead of just writing it was “ a beautiful mountain stream,” you could add how it sounds and have your character take a drink. She notes that it tastes slightly of blood and is scared. As she quickens her pace through the crunchy leaves, she starts to smell the tang of iron and the fear increases. Where is Jeremy? She shouts his name more insistently and looks down at the reddening color of the water. Her stomach churns at the thought of that drink and bitter bile wells up into her throat. In another scenario, when the trail riders sit around the campfire, what did the grilled steaks and hot coffee taste like? Tangy, bitter, strong, tender, burnt? Your characters will be doing all these things. Why not give your characters more of the five senses rather than tell the reader?

Writing about smell, touch and taste is harder than writing about seeing and hearing. In order to sharpen our skills, we need to observe, record and practice. Try walking through the grocery store, take a hike in the woods, ride the bus, hold a newborn baby or puppy, bake cookies or plant flowers. Record what you see, feel, smell and what you touch and taste. Write down what color the soil was. Was it brown, black, cinnamon or tan? Did it feel dry, wet, sandy or rocky? Did the baby smell like powder, soap, sweet, milk? Was the bus dirty or clean, did it smell and if so of what, did the different riders on the bus smell, and how did they act and talk differently? Did you swipe your finger into the batter before you added the shaved chocolate? What did it taste like, how did it feel on your fingertips and tongue?

Another exercise to increase our senses is to have a friend assemble a bag of different objects. Blindfolded and using earplugs, take them out one at a time and orally dictate to your friend what they feel like, what they smell like and even taste like. Practicing will develop your senses. A third exercise is to describe different objects without using its color. How would you describe a banana without saying it was yellow? Write down the description of chocolate ice cream without saying it was brown. Learn to expand your descriptive vocabulary.

Many fund-raising events are titled “The Taste of Dallas,” “The Champagnes of Napa,” “The Italian Food Festival” or “Diamonds and Chocolate.” Organizers know these types of names evoke emotions that are pleasurable by associating taste with something good ergo people will want to come. Writers of fiction or nonfiction can do the same with our stories or poems. Bring in the five senses and you will elevate your writing.


elizabethbrinton said...

I love this post because it is such an important reminder of one of the greatest tools we have in our tool kit. I was totally thrilled when Chris Peck, a reviewer of my novel said, "Brinton's evocative writing takes us to the hamlets of New England where we feel the snow and smell the fire." When I traveled to Newport, Rhode Island, to absorb the setting, I happened to arrive in the grips of a terrible storm, in the dead of winter. I walked the streets trying to imagine what the first settlers dealt with. First drafts, so caught up with ideas, tend to leave the senses out, but second and third versions, can layer in sight, sound and scent. Nothing puts the reader closer to the story than entering each chapter through these very real human experiences. Thank you for this excellent reminder.

Norm de Ploom said...

I appreciate your comments, Elizabeth. How validating it is to receive the comments from a reviewer on your book that you did. It is not something reviewers comment on often so to receive the accolade means you really hit the mark and enhanced the reader's enjoyment of your book. It is like finding a piece of chocolate in a candy box you thought was empty.