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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Dollars & Sense

The deviltry is in the sensory details. I can picture it, smell it, & all the other good stuff. But, sometimes I forget to write it.

Sight - Character descriptions, object placement, & the events witnessed by POV characters. Brown hair, blue eyes, porcelain skin - simple enough. On the table, inlaid fleur-de-lis, by the window. Crossing the room, blowing his top, dragging the body. While all of these are accurate reflections of something or someone, they do not leave an indelible impression either.

Golden flakes of sunlight burned through his tawny locks, emerald eyes that dug into one's inner core, fine white china laced with the slightest of cracks as she smiled. Centered on the dining table, intricate fleur-de-lis tiles lined the outer-edges of the room, the dust-laden piano begged to be tickled from the corner of the study. He crossed the room in measured timbre; his toupee jumped to the beat of his angry rhythm; she dragged the body from under the piano, his toupee dusted the the trail as they went.

Smell - Oh odorific! This dimension, taken for granted as we move about our day, plays a vital role in defining surroundings, character & action. "Smells like rain." "The scent of warm biscuits undulated in the air." "The fire smelled like pine."

"The clouds formed a conga line overhead filling the air with a heady mixture of rain & renewal."
"The pile of warm biscuits sung a chorus of fresh-baked love when she peeled back the covering."
"Pinelings played in the embers; their warmth threw off the muted scent of clean."

Taste - An apple, a lemon, watermelon. The crack of an unsoiled red, juices dancing over the tongue. Tart yellow freshness floating among the ice cubes. Red liquid oozing down the throat, pushing the seeds along the canal - the taste of sunshine ripened on the vine.

The enjoyment, or lack there of, delivers insight into our characters. I don't like watermelon, so for me the description is a stretch. However, my character may love it; therefore, it is necessary for me to understand it from that perspective.

Touch - White-crested warmth from the ocean, gritty bits of sand, the feel of aloe caressing sunburnt skin. The sense of touch; rough, dry, smooth, silky. Touch plays a vital role in characterization & setting. How characters feel things - silky smooth cattails caressing the side of her face or the dry, brittle cloth pushing the dirt from his arms. This demonstrates how the characters feel without saying they were mesmerized, depressed, elated, star-struck or anything else. Setting too has a feel - gray, weathered bricks of granite; cool to the touch, stark to the soul. Evenly spaced pickets, bright with the promise of splinters. Silk petals with prickly neighbors.

Hearing - Doors creak, hearts thunder, knees pop. You can also hear the birds sing, the rabbits scurry or the lions roar. We know & understand each of these. The magic happens when these are tied to the characters & their environments. The lunch whistle mixed with the murmur of the miner-bees spilling across the sun-baked yard; metal scraped along the barrier, the vehicle sliding down the ice-maiden freeway; silence. Yes, even silence has an auditory component - creepy & scary, warm & peaceful. What is heard or not, plays a role in your writing.

The 5 senses demonstrate characters, emotions & environmental impacts. We don't use each of these in every scene. Doing so would make for Tolkeinesque tomes. However, enlivening the scene with a mixture of sensory details brings your world to life.

I am an auditory writer. So, for me, the challenge is to transcend the hearing world & move deeper into the other senses. Strike a balance that provides the best stimuli for both your characters & the readers. This will sharpen the picture, focus the intensity level & brighten your world.

Happy Writing,



  1. I think we often forget the other senses when we write. I know it's so hard with me to use them. Great reminder her. You have a wonderful blog.


  2. Clarissa,
    Thanks so much. I'm glad to know that I am in good company.

  3. Most excellent post. You did a remarkable job in describing all. On the lighter side. I love watermelon. I craved it when I was pregnant with my first born and now she hates it. Why is that I wonder?
    N. R. Williams, fantasy author

  4. Nancy,
    Thank you very much. I have never figured out what it is about melon; I can't do any of it. AS for the cravings, I wish my daughter didn't like fast food. That's all I wanted with her. My son, it was cottage cheese, every single day. And, he finds it pretty gnarly. I think they got too much of it in there or something.