What senses would you use, or need to invent, if you were writing from the point of view (POV) of a mythical creature?
If I was writing this scene from the dragon’s POV, I would write that it had the same organ some snakes have on their faces to detect heat. Would the dragon be able to see well in the dark? Would the dark look like dark to it? Since it doesn’t have ears made of cartilage sticking our from its head, maybe it doesn’t hear well. If it breathes fire, and your readers will be disappointed if it doesn’t breathe something, it could notice when heat is building up inside the organ that generates the fire.
What if you wrote from a centaur’s POV? I was thinking about that because I took riding lessons. My teacher told me that horses are nervous about their feet, especially the back ones, because they can’t see them. Perhaps a centaur can’t see them well either, and a back hoof got stuck in a trap, what he sense?
What mythical creature can you think of with an unusual sense?
Sound may be the second most popular sense writers evoke. Below are three ways to enhance your writing about the sense of sound.
I love it when an author describes how a character sounds. Dr. Watson often stated that the voice of Sherlock Holmes was strident. Is the voice high-pitched? A scratchy bass? Carries a heavy accent? Does the character talk fast or drawl? It’s now considered amateurish to have a line of dialogue and accompany it with a tag, such as “he roared”, “she squeaked”, or “he snarled.” So I have to get creative to let my readers know how a character sounds.
“His snarl forced the other man to rear back.”
“His roar would have done ten lions proud.”
“He talked as fast as a flock of woodpeckers at work.”
If you have a character who loves music, you can have songs or tunes running through her mind to reveal her feelings about other characters and situations. By the way, you can use the titles of songs but you can not use the lyrics of copyrighted songs. You can get inventive and have your character create her own lyrics to fit familiar tunes. A few years ago, my kids loved the middle grade mystery series Jigsaw Jones. Jigsaw’s partner Mila would make up lyrics appropriate to the story, using tunes of well-known children’s songs.
A character with musical talent could also describe sounds in musical terms.
Her staccato, piccolo voice clashed with her husband’s mellow cello.
The gate squeaked like a first-grader’s first stroke on a violin.
All my stories, so far, have significant sections set in rural areas. Working in the sounds is important because nature is never quiet. In face, when nature gets quiet, something strange is going on ( Speculative fiction, anyone?) Bird songs signal what season a story is taking place. My backyard is home to many mourning doves. Their plaintive call would work well in a scene if I wanted to underline a melancholy tone. I often write about the sound of the wind. Where I live, the air is rarely still.
Most writers write by sight. And most readers think by sight, so the sense of sight is the easiest way to connect with readers. Poor or cliched descriptions using sight is the easiest way to lose them. The three tips for using the sense of sight in your writing will help you dig deep to construct descriptions that are original but relatable to the reader.
I love to use color to describe characters. But I have to be careful not to overuse it. So When I first describe a character, I try to come up with a vivid description that makes an impact. Then as the story continues, I touch on that initial description to keep it in the reader’s mind. But I touch on it. I don’t dwell on it. I don’t want description to dam up the flow of the story.
Hair as black as a new moon night
Hair as red as sunup
Skin tanned to “a baked bread brown.”
The colors of interiors set the mood for your interior scenes. My youngest and I visited a local art museum. The children’s room had been repainted a deep purple. It was so dark in a room with no natural lighting, that I grew depressed and could barely stand to stay in it. I could use that strong reaction for a character who is uncomfortable in a setting.
In a previous post on color, I write about how I gave one of the characters in my YA novel the medical condition synesthesia and it reveals how she perceives the other people.
While reading Writing from the Senses by Laura Deutsch, I was reminded of how much motion is a part of sight. How characters move in a scene anchors readers in it and also reveals qualities about those characters.
Shifting feet show anxiety
Long strides show confidence
Flipping hair shows flirtation
Raking back hair shows irritation
Movement of animals, the wind, and machinery all depend on sight descriptions. Sound plays a part too, but that’s another post.
Light, whether exterior or interior, has a profound affect on my mood, so I work it into my writing.
Golden summer evenings seem perfect wrap-ups to stories.
Harsh overhead lighting for a scene in which the main character is uneasy or irritated.
Low lighting, like a fire in a fireplace, throws up big shadows creating a mysterious atmosphere.
How do you use the sense of sight in your writing?
This photo is a reenactment of a battle in the American Civil War. If you were writing historical fiction, how would you describe it? If you’ve never been in a battle, how could you make the scene come alive to your readers?
I am friends with a number of writers who specialize in historical fiction. From interviews I’ve conducted with them, I’ve learned a few techniques.
If the historical period still has living eyewitnesses, interview them.
If the historical period is hundreds or thousands of years from the present, research sources that were written by people of that time.
If at all possible, visit the area in which your historical period is set.
Once you’ve done that research, you must rely on your own imagination and skill to make a time period feel real to your readers.
What historical fiction have you read that made you feel like you knew what it was like to live in that time?
To tie in with my theme of digging deeper into our senses when writing, I chose the best example of writing about color that I’ve ever read. No author used color like G.K. Chesterton, and in his short story, “The Three Horsemen of the Apocalypse”, color not only brings the setting and characters to vivid life but is the crux of the plot.
This story was first published in 1935, but the characters discuss a political event that took place years before when European armies still relied on horses and dressed in the uniforms of their regiment rather than in fatigues that allowed them to blend in with their surroundings.
A Prussian unit, the White Hussars, is encamped at one end of a raised stone road, the only road through a huge, desolate swamp. Other Prussian troops occupy the Polish town at the other end of the road. The Prussian officer in this town will release a Polish nationalist he is holding prisoner unless he gets a message to execute him from Marshal Von Grock, who is camped with the White Hussars.
Von Grock sends a solider on horseback with the execution order. He leaves by the stone road. When the Prussian prince comes into camp a few minutes later to review the troops and learns what the marshal has done, he sends a second rider with an order that countermands the marshal’s. The prince fears international opinion if the Prussians kill the prisoner, who is also a famous poet and singer. Once the prince leaves, Von Grock sends a third solider, not with a message but with a rifle to bring down the prince’s messenger.
As Mr. Pond, who is telling the story, says, “The whole thing went wrong because the discipline was too good. Grock’s soldiers obeyed him too well; so he simply couldn’t do a thing he wanted.”
The plot hinges on the white uniforms with a “flame-colored baldrick” (I had to look this up: it’s a belt worn over the shoulder). All three soldiers on horseback wear it. These uniforms stand out against the dark swamp as do their white horses, which is the standard for the regiment. The descriptions of the swamp as the riders ride along the lonely road at night are so vivid that my mental picture is engrained in my brain.
“The grey-green blotches of flattened vegetation, seen from above like a sprawling map, seemed more like the chart of a disease than a development; and the land-locked pools might have been poison rather than waste. “
“The moon had risen over the marshes and gone up strengthening in splendor and gleaming on dark waters and green scum.”
Mr. Chesterton also uses color to contrast the marshal, wearing a white uniform, with the prince, who is wearing a black and blue uniform with a dark cloak.
I found this story in the collection Thirteen Detectives. What stories have you read that uses color, or one of the other sense, so effectively?