Thursday, March 18, 2010

Make Your Writing a Full-Sensory Experience

Do you use all five senses when you write?

Most Americans are visual people. We see people's points, look at problems from every angle and read between the lines. That's not so bad. After all, you want you writing to be visual, right?

While it's true that you do want your writing to paint a picture for the reader, never neglect the power of using all five senses to draw a person into the scene. Let's take a scene from a romance novel, for instance. Imagine you're writing a scene between your hero and leading lady. You describe the look on the hero's face as he gazes at the love of his life, the stormy blueness of his eyes, the cleft in his chin. You add that he sees a tear trickle down her cheek. Wonderful! Now, what about the other four senses? Let’s see what you can do with those.

Hint: If it helps, close your eyes in order to focus more intently on the non-visual aspects of the scene. Ready? Go!

Sit still for a moment and listen to the sound of your breathing; focus on how it sounds to you. How are your characters breathing? Is the hero’s breathing ragged and hoarse with emotion or exertion, or is it deep and calm, comforting? Now broaden your scope. What sounds linger in the background, mostly unheard? If the setting is a castle bailey, you may hear the ring of a blacksmith’s hammer, he clucking of a chicken or the sound of a hoof on stone. A more urbane setting may include the tinkle of wine glasses or the showering notes of a harp. Immerse yourself in the sounds and then write them into the scene.

Focus on your nose for a moment. First, let yourself take in the smells around you right now…the scent of a cooking meal, the espresso-scent of a coffee shop or the smell of lilacs through an open window. Now focus on your scene. How do your characters smell? Do you smell sweat or perfume? What about their environment? Hone in on their surroundings and small what they smell. Are the scents harsh and intrusive—does the smell of horse manure waft from a nearby stable—or does the fragrance of flowers add to the emotion of the moment? Follow your nose.

If your scene contains food, this is easy. Does the heroine taste the seductive flavors of strawberries and champagne, or are they dining on wild game charred over an open fire? Focus on the taste. If it helps, find something similar to taste for yourself (always a good excuse to have champagne in the middle of the day!). If your scene doesn’t include food, open your mind to other taste possibilities. What about that tear that trickles down the heroine’s cheek…does it run onto her lips, where she tastes the salt? Did the hero just get in a fight? A cut lip could leave him with the metallic taste of blood in his mouth. If your mouth is watering right now, you’re on the right track.

Touch is explosive and emotive. As he reaches out to cup her face in his hands, how do his hands feel on her face? Are they rough and calloused from working long hours, or are they the smooth hands of a rich nobleman? Does he run his hands over her hair? What does it feel like? Is it smooth and well-coifed, or is it a riot of tangles because she’s been playing the tomboy? Whether your characters are dressed in silk, homespun or buckskin, focus on the feel of the material against the skin. Now add the weather. Are their faces kissed by a warm sun or blistered by tropical heat? Are they standing in a light rain or drenched and shivering in a torrential downpour? Think about every texture in the scene and how it might play into the emotion you’re trying to convey.

Once you take the time to focus, it’s easy to see how the use of all five senses can enhance any scene. Don’t imagine, either, that this only works for fiction. Whatever your writing genre, make it a full-sensory experience for your reader. You will boost your readership and leave them coming back for more!

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