( Painting By Carla Dunn)
An excellent article by the amiable CARLA KING, it tackles the ability to write compelling books through senses. Please read on:
Sight is the most obvious of the senses to invoke when depicting a scene in your written work, but your visual descriptions will benefit when you incorporate your other senses to enrich your writing.
First drafts of most travelogues are full of rich, visual detail, but often fall short on smells, tastes, sounds, and feelings. I’ve learned to add an editing round to incorporate all the senses and am constantly surprised at all the new memories that are conjured up and the rich expansion of each scene. I’ve noticed that quite a lot of nice metaphors and similes come out of this exercise, too.
The most obvious and easiest of the senses to describe, sight delivers on colour and texture and important aspects of scenes like landscapes, cityscapes, objects, and faces. Your visual descriptions will often benefit from the addition of another sense or two.
The sense of smell is the most closely linked with memory, and is highly emotive, as perfumers know. For example, you might transport the reader to a seaside village on a Croatian island by describing the slightly sweet, putrid scent of seaweed baking at low tide in the late afternoon sun.
Did you know that at least 75% of taste is actually formed from the smell? Taste can be broken down into five areas: salty, bitter, sweet, sour, and umami, a Japanese word meaning “pleasant savory taste.” So the aroma of that rotting seaweed contributes more than you might realize to the taste of the oyster you just slurped.
Unlike the other senses, the sense of touch is generously distributed all over the skin and even inside your body. With five million sensory nerve receptors (and over twenty different types of pain nerve endings) we can afford to spend a little more time in touch. Does the smell of rotting seaweed bring on a tightening of your throat, making it difficult to slip that oyster down? Readers want to know what that felt like (sort of). The feel of a handshake can reveal a page’s worth of character-building visual description. Keep in mind that the most sensitive areas of the body are your hands, lips, face, neck, tongue, fingertips, and feet.
Hearing is often described as the most important sense because it’s our early warning system. Our hearing separates complicated sounds into tones or frequencies that our minds track individually. We can follow a variety of strains of voices or instruments while also taking note of the slap of water on a boat hull, the whistle of the wind through a crack in the window, the tinkle of glasses, a backfiring engine. Descriptions of sounds can backlight a scene or create drama with sudden impact.
Have some fun with synesthesia, the art of assigning one sensation to another: color to sound, smell to colour, sound to smell, etc. Here’s a line from Bruno Schultz’s Street of the Crocodiles: “Adelia would plunge the rooms into semi-darkness by drawing down the linen blinds. All colors immediately fell an octave lower; the room filled with shadows, as if it had sunk to the bottom of the sea and the light was reflected in mirrors of green water.”
Bruno Schultz’s Street of the Crocodiles
Diane Ackerman’s A Natural History of the Senses
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