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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Engaging Your Senses in Your Writing

It's our job as writers to help the reader escape the world they live in. That's why people read fiction. That's why I read fiction anyway. I want to be transported to some other time or somewhere else.

In order to fully immerse our readers in the story, they need to see, hear, smell, feel, and taste the worlds we create.

I know this is one area I can improve in. It's easy to show/tell what our characters see, and we are generally good at hearing. But do we try and work the other senses in? And what about the emotions that often go along with the senses?

Now, I think there is a fine line here that we need to remember. We don't need to use every sense in every description. That's called over writing. Just like everything else, we have to find balance. Use the sense that means something at that moment. The sense that contributes to the story line and moves things forward.

But where can we add senses to enrich the story? (Summarized from Muse Con workshop taught by Patricia C. Lee.)

In the setting.
Workshop assignment: A field lay before Monica’s eyes. Mountains rose in the distance. The mid-afternoon sun shone down. It was getting late. If she didn’t hurry, she wouldn’t make it by nightfall.

My take:
The autumn grass swayed in the breeze before Monica's eyes. She paused for a moment to inhale the sweet mustiness of the decaying flora. Her skin warmed as the mid-afternoon sun shone down and a bead of sweat formed on her nose. Monica swiped it away while gauging the distance across the field. She would need to hurry if she wanted to make the mountains by nightfall. Inwardly, she groaned, but forced her body into a slow run. Her legs felt heavy as the ground passed unevenly beneath her, but eventually she fell into comfortable rhythm.

Which style would you rather read for 400 pages? Yeah, me too.

In your characters.
In the workshop we were challenged to write down how our body reacts to certain emotions and situations. Keep a journal of them so you can use it in your writing. Then I chose to write about this prompt.

Your character is attending a church wedding of the first boy she ever kissed and the minister just pronounced the couple as husband and wife.

My take:
The light from the stained glass window painted the couple gold and red. A hush fell over the wedding guests as the groom lifted the veil. My heart pounded and I gripped the edge of the pew, every creak and rustle from the room squeezed my heart tighter.

I wished for someone say something, but we were past the objections.

He cupped her face and bent to kiss his bride.

My lips tingled with the memory of our first kiss. A kiss that had led to many more so long ago, but we moved on. I had moved on.

Until last night when he had kissed me again. One kiss that led to more.

Now my heart ached, but my hands curled into fists. I had one comfort. He didn't know how miserable I was going to make him.

Here are a few more examples, not great but you get the idea.

Perhaps a smell sparks a memory.
She sank her nose deep into the buds and inhaled the sweet honey scent. An image of her mother standing in the yard came to mind.

A taste brings about an unexpected reaction.
I watched in horror as our hand brought the blood to our lips. My stomach twisted, but her tongue savored the sweetness.

The blast of hot air might carry the smell of rotting meat, especially if coming from a dragon's mouth. :)

The whole point is to combine the senses to draw the reader in. Make them see, hear, feel, smell, and taste the story as your MC experiences it.

Okay, it's your turn.

Pick one from the selection below and describe what your character is feeling, seeing, sensing, and maybe even tasting within the setting. Try to use your setting as the foundation of what your character is experiencing.
1. Your character is standing off to the side on a rain-slicked road after he has just crashed his first car.
2. Your character is attending a church wedding of the first boy she ever kissed and the minister just pronounced the couple as husband and wife.
3. Your character is lying alone in a ravine with a broken leg and a snake has slithered over to him/her.
Email them to charity.bradford@gmail.com and put Unicorn Bell: Senses in the subject line. I'll post them tomorrow for commenting.

Resource Links:
The Bookshelf Muse--you know how much I love this one.
List of Adjective Words--adjective are good when used appropriately.
10 Universities Offering Free Online Writing Courses


mshatch said...

I bookmarked the free courses - thanks! And I sent you an entry. Fun :)

Huntress said...

Great exercise!

Tara Tyler said...

your changes made the stories tangible!
great advice!

Angela Brown said...

Oh! An assignment. Off to work I go :-)