Monday, February 17, 2014

Engaging the Senses

Here's a writing tip that I posted back in April of 2011. If you missed it the first time, hope you find it useful today!

Reading isn't a sensory experience, so it's up to the writer to make it one! Remember show don't tell? This means going beyond the visual and taking full advantage of all the senses, including hearing, smell, touch and taste.

Todd Stone, in his Novelist's Boot Camp, says that how you go beyond sight can make a difference as well.

"As you use description to build that emotional connection between your reader and your story, consider carefully which sense you want to use. Some senses are more--more personal, closer, more private--than others. Using the more intimate senses can make your description more emotionally powerful." Stone goes on to explain the degree of intimacy in each sense:

Sight. The most passive of the senses. Our eyes are always open and we don't need to do anything to see an object, so there's very little involvement. And what we see remains outside the body.

Sound. More intimate than sight. Sound causes a physical change in the body--the vibration of the eardrum. It takes more effort to block out sound than sight, and sounds are also more easily remembered, especially when repeated in rhythmic fashion. Ever wonder why we remember nursery rhymes and cartoon jingles into adulthood? Sound is still rather passive. The stimulation can come from a distance.

Touch. As far as intimacy, touch falls in the center of the spectrum. Touch is easily remembered, and touch memory is stored in a different part of the brain than sight or sound. Touch can be active or passive. Characters can touch or be touched. Whatever stimulates touch must be close. And touch can be used as an intimate character marker--leathery skin, rough hands, scarred face. Touch, however, remains outside the body. So, although it's more intimate than sight or sound, it's less intimate than smell and taste.

Smell. The human brain's neural connections tie certain smells to certain primeval instincts and emotions, making it an intimate sense. Smells can produce strong, emotional reactions even when very faint. I have a friend who grew up in an alcoholic home.  To this day he hates the smell of beer because of what it reminds him of. Does the smell of oatmeal cookies remind you of your grandma's house? For a more powerful, intimate effect on the reader, use the sense of smell in your descriptions.

Taste. The most intimate of the senses. The taste buds, mouth and gums provide fast track access to the body and parts of the brain. Sensations that originate in the mouth can cause very powerful, very emotional reactions almost instantly. To activate taste, a stimulant must enter through open lips, voluntarily or involuntarily. Taste can also reflect emotion, such as the sweetness of a lover's kiss, or the coppery taste of a character's own blood. So taste is the most intimate of all.

In closing, transform your scenes from mediocre to magnificent by engaging the senses! Are you already doing this? Thanks for visiting!


Old Kitty said...

Thanks for these fabulous tips, Maria! Making senses come alive through words is truly an art form and worth getting right! Take care

William Kendall said...

I do indeed heed the use of the senses... though not so much that of taste.

shelly said...

Excellent post, Maria.