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Writing with Senses

Writing Tip — Writing with Senses.

babyw-3041366_1280This is the last post in the series by Cyle Young on exploring the five sense in writing and concerns the sense of taste. He provides an exercise to test your descriptive muscles.

Using the sense of taste has limits. While your characters are always seeing and hearing and touching, taste can only be used in certain settings. But if you are able to creatively evoke that sense for your readers, then a scene with taste in it will stand apart from the usual ones employing sight, sound, and touch.

As I mentioned in my post about smell, my main character Junior comes from a poor family and often goest hungry. When he finally gets to sit down to Sunday lunch, biscuits and chicken noodle soup, he thinks it tastes as good as “wild blueberry pie.” When he is battling insomnia, he thinks of his favorite foods, instead of counting sheep. I will revisit that scene to make sure I maximize my taste descriptions. In both scenes, the reader learns about what foods Junior likes, making him seem real.

I can also use food to make my setting seem real. My characters eat pepperoni rolls for lunch. Simply slice or planks of pepperoni wrapped in bread dough, it was invented in West Virginia. Describing local food or food popular during a specific time can aid in imagining an unfamiliar world.

My friend Sandra Melville Hart writes historical romances set during the American Civil War. One her blog, “Historical Nibbles”, she posts about food from that time period and others and tries out recipes like “Mulled Buttermilk” and “Creole Soup.”

How would you use the sense of taste in your writing?

 

Writing Tip — Writing with Senses

womanw-546103_1280Cyle Young’s article on how to write using the sense of smell has a great exercise to practice this type of description.

Writing about smell might be the most difficult sense for me. I think that’s because, first, I have a very dull sense of smell. I’m sure a skunk could spray at my feet, and I ‘d only notice a slight change in the surrounding air. My youngest has a terrific sense of smell and lets me know with questions like “How come your car smells so bad, Mom?”

A second reason for my difficulty is that, as abundant as the English language is, we don’t have a lot of words to choose from that concern only smells. We have to describe it in other terms, like the physical reaction to a smell.

Mr. Young points out no sense can stir memories like smell. A smell can be a very natural and meaningful way to start a flashback because everyone has had this experience. When I smell onions cooking, no matter where, I grow very nostalgic because it reminds me of my grandmother’s house. The combination of sunscreen and bug spray immediately reminds me of marching band camp.

I am going to revisit my novel The Truth and Other Strangers and review how I have used the sense of smell in it. Here are some settings and other characteristics of my novel where I could use it:

  1. Mountains — My novel is set in the eastern mountains of West Virginia in July. The rhododendrons bloom in that month but don’t have much of a smell. I could use that, such as, “Funny, how something so pretty had no delicate scent to partner it.” Since my main character Junior loves being in the mountains, I would select only pleasant smells to support his feelings.
  2. Food — Because Junior’s family is poor, he often is hungry. So the odors of food means more to him than to well-fed characters. He has recently lost the aunt who raised him, so I could use a smell to bring back memories of her and underline how much he misses her.
  3. Vehicles — To me, vehicles have their own peculiar smells. Junior’s family has nine kids and owns a very old, battered van. All kinds of smells could be trapped in its abused interior.
  4. Bar — Junior visits a notoriously rough bar twice. Describing only bothersome smells, like cigarette smoke and alcohol, would show how uncomfortable Junior is in this setting.
The Absence of Smell

The lack of smell can also be used dramatically. If your characters are animals and lose their sense of smell, that would be traumatic. In a work of speculative fiction, an object’s or area’s lack of smell could be a signal to the characters that something is horribly wrong.

How do you use the sense of smell in your writing?

Writing Tip — Writing With Senses

jellyfish wordsCyle Young at Hartline Literary Agency has a wonderful post on using the sense of touch in writing.

This sense is often underused because we are such sight-dependent beings. Unless you have a character who is blind, is in a dark setting, or is an animal or imaginary creature whose main sense is touch, this sense gets crowded out by sight and touch.

Reviewing my own book, I see I used the sense of touch to convey the humidity of its summer setting. Humidity forces me to explore the sense of touch because it is the only way to experience it.

When my main character works on a roof all through a humid July day, he says, “I felt like I’d gone swimming in tomato soup.” He describes a mist as “clinging to my skin like a fungus.”

When my main character is sneaking around his property in the West Virginia mountains in the dead of night, I will try to include some description of touch, Right now, I only mention the wind whipping around him and sweating.

Writing Exercise

If you want to practice your writing with touch, write a comment to Mr. Young’s post. Or use the above photo. What’s interesting about using this photo as a writing exercise is that there are at least two people touching the jellyfish and possibly three. Each character can experience the feel of the jellyfish in a unique way, and that way tells something about him or her.

For example, the hand coming from the left looks like a child’s and he can be thrilled with touching a live jellyfish while the hand hovering behind can belong to an adult who touched the creature and was revolted. (I might share that reaction).

How would you use the sense of touch in the photo above?

Writing Tip — Evoking More Sight

eye-2357104_1280In my own writing, I often use color to describe characters. I have a lot of characters, and color is one way I can help readers keep them straight

In my novel The Truth and Other Strangers, I have several characters with brown eyes. To differentiate, I call some “hazel”, some “dark brown”, and some “almost black”. My main character Junior uses more precise colors for family members because he notices the subtle differences in their eye color.

On the other hand, when Junior runs into members of the Kimmel family, a family of crooks he doesn’t know well, he sees that many of them have pale-colored eyes, but he has never been close enough to discern the exact color.

At the end of my book, the head of the Kimmel family gets in Junior’s face to threaten him. Now Junior can see all too clearly that the man has light green eyes. I use Junior’s ability to discern the color to underline how uncomfortably close he is to  the man threatening him.

Junior has a five-year-old sister Angel who has a medical condition called synthesia, an extra connection between senses. One of the most common forms is seeing a color specific to a number or letter when reading. Angel sees people in color. She sees an uncle as chocolate brown. This kind of synthesia is sometimes called seeing “auras”. I use the condition to enhance Angel’s otherworldly personality and to comment on characters’ personalities. Such as she see the sheriff who is threatening her family as puke green.

I need to work on studying scenes to mine them for their colors. In summer, nature wears green, but just describing a setting as green doesn’t begin to touch on all the variations of green that exist in summer. Like I said in the prompt on Monday, I should take time to really study a scene, either in person or in my head.

Writing Tip — Evoking Sight

watercolor-2332129_12803I really like the post on Almost an Author using sight in our writing.  You can read my comment on the exercise Mr. Young proposes. It’s extremely useful to remind writers to slow down and truly observe a scene.

Most of us write by sight. What kind of writing you do effects your visual descriptions. Novelists can add more detail than a short story writer, but a short story writer may come up with an extraordinarily vivid description because of the constraints of the form.

One area of sight I want to improve is the use of color in my writing. We are so used to seeing color that we take it for granted unless the color is unusual in some way, especially ugly, pretty, vivid, and so on.

G.K. Chesterton used color very effectively in his writing. I discovered him through his Father Brown short stories. I tried reading them at twenty and didn’t understand them at all. But I did remember his descriptions of landscapes. When I went back to the stories years later, I could appreciate them so much more as well as his skill in writing with color like a painter.

profession-1923499_1280Here are some of my favorite examples from the short story collection The Innocence of Father Brown:

“They awoke before it was daylight; for a large lemon moon was only just setting in the forest of high grass above their heads, and the sky was of a vivid violet-blue, nocturnal but bright. ”           From “The Sins of Prince Saradine”

Describing a duel : “Everything above them was a dome of virgin gold, and, distant as they were, every detail was picked out. They had cast off their coats, but the yellow waistcoat and white hair of Saradine, the red waistcoat and white trousers of Antonelli, glittered in the level light like the colors of the dancing clockwork dolls.”       From “The Sins of Prince Saradine”

“In the cool blue twilight of two steep streets in Camden Town, the shop at the corner, a confectioner’s, glowed like the butt of a cigar. One should rather say, like the butt of a firework, for the light was of many colors and some complexity, broken up by many mirrors and dancing on many gilt and gaily-colored cakes and sweetmeats.”      From “The Invisible Man”

My favorite story by Chesterton is “The Three Horsemen of the Apocalypse” collected in Thirteen Detectives. The plot hinges on the fact that in the late nineteenth century, army uniforms were based on regiment colors, not the terrain where the army was located. The ending is a tremendous paradox, a speciality of Chesterton’s, and I never saw it coming, but once it arrives, it makes perfect sense.

Tomorrow I have a guest post on a friend’s blog, so I will talk more about colors in my own writing next week.

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