The Five Senses of Writing

During all the reviews I have been writing for Indie short stories in the past two weeks, I have been amazed by the complete blasting the visual part of my brain has taken. Some of the descriptions of people and places have been absolutely astounding and by rights I should become fully immersed in these stories.

But I’m not.

What is equally astounding is how these writers, who can freely demonstrate their ability to write brilliantly, chose to completely ignore certain parts of our daily experience as humans. The end result is, as much as I would love to be taken in by such stories, I find myself standing at the side lines like a casual observer reading from a history book. They feel as though they are stories that are happening to someone else…

Not to me…

Let me explain.

Writers frequently fall into the trap of only talking about what people see and their emotions. Occasionally they talk about what they hear but, for the most part, this is usually only when something important happens or during a dialogue interchange.

But, as humans, we experience the world in five senses and it is very easy for a writer to completely ignore the senses of taste, touch and smell. I have even had conversations with some of the writers of the stories I’ve reviewed and they are insistent that they couldn’t possibly write about these senses too much because it would take away from the story.

So hear is my advice.

Read Patrick Suskind’s Perfume.

If you are in anyway a writer, you need to read this book to understand how a thriller story can be written with the emphasis on sense other than sight or sound. It’s fantastically written – you’ll have a great time with it.

In the meantime, here is a little experiment to show you how five senses can be blended into a single passage and the impact these can have on a scene (just for any of you think I’ve completely lost it this time). Think of this as a writer’s version of the Young Persons’ Guide to the Orchestra by Benjamin Britten.

What do you make of it?

The Experiment

Sight

I pushed open the door, emerging into a dark room lit by a small red light in the corner. My eyes took a moment to adjust to the darkness. The two men inside jerked their heads towards me; the first breathing heavily, the second rubbing his jaw with his hand.

Sound

I pushed open the door, emerging into a dark room lit by a small red light in the corner. There was a faint scuffle and the grunting stopped as my eyes adjusted to the darkness. The two men inside jerked their heads towards me; the first breathing heavily, the second rubbing his jaw with his hand.

Touch

My fingers grasped hold of the ice-cold doorknob and turned. I pushed open the door, emerging into a dark room lit by a small red light in the corner. There was a faint scuffle and the grunting stopped as my eyes adjusted to the darkness. The two men inside jerked their heads towards me; the first breathing heavily, the second rubbing his jaw with his hand.

Taste

My fingers grasped hold of the ice-cold doorknob and turned. I pushed open the door, emerging into a dark room lit by a small red light in the corner. For a moment, I thought I could taste something bitter in my mouth but I quickly forgot about it as I heard a faint scuffle and the grunting finally stopped. When my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I could see two men with their heads jerked towards me; the first breathing heavily, the second rubbing his jaw with his hand.

Think you have a good idea of what just happened? Obviously something not particularly nice as far as the narrator is concerned. Maybe there’s been a fight or he’s walked in on some sort of meeting to hatch a conspiracy. 

Now for the kicker…

Smell

My fingers grasped hold of the ice-cold doorknob and turned. I pushed open the door, emerging into a dark room lit by a small red light in the corner. My nostrils were bombarded with the faint aroma of sweat and sperm and, for a moment, I thought I could taste something bitter in my mouth but I quickly forgot about it as I heard a faint scuffle in the darkness and the grunting finally stopped. When my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I could see two men with their heads jerked towards me; the first breathing heavily, the second rubbing his jaw with his hand.

And there you have it folks. One sense has the power to completely change the meaning of a scene. Remember to utilise all five in your writing!

For more reviews, news and stories from Nick, subscribe to his newsletter at

http://nick-tingley.wix.com/author#!subscribe/c1fr5

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s