Roasted figs bursting with hot, honeyed pulp. The smell of sun-drenched lavender and rosemary mingling with the salty ocean air. When you’re creating a world in fiction, you want your readers to experience that world from your characters’ point of view. You want to filter characters’ emotion through their senses so readers can plunge into a moment and see, hear, smell, and touch right along with them.
Making all this happen on the page is no mean feat! That’s one reason I was excited about attending a workshop called “Using Your Senses in Writing,” conducted by Judith Lindbergh, author of a very sensual novel, The Thrall’s Tale, and Michelle Cameron, author of The Fruit of Her Hands. As creative triggers, Judith and Michelle employed a series of exercises using art, music, herbs, chocolate, and juicy clementines — all designed to spark evocative sensory prose. It was a fun and revealing afternoon. A few takeaways:
Our language is very visually oriented, so this sense tends to dominate our narratives.
Music is very suggestive: one way to evoke a mood your character is experiencing is to start a writing session by listening to music that mirrors the mood you want to convey.
Smell is the sense most connected to memory. Smell and taste create a complex mix that’s rich and yeasty.
Attention to detail and deep observation help your word jump off the page and plunge a reader into your world.
Slowing down enough to capture experience through the senses lets your readers be “in the moment” with your characters.
Start with the “bones” of your story, then add the “meat” through sensory descriptions.
All this has inspired me to Look at major scenes in my YA novel from a sensory point of view and ask myself, “Are there opportunities I’m missing? How can I make these moments richer and add more texture to them?
Along with this workshop, NJ-based The Writers Circle has ongoing groups and a speaker series on creating character, writing memoirs, and self publishing (www.writerscircleworkshops.com).
As you hone your descriptive skills, you might find it helpful to pick up a novel by one of your favorite authors and look for passages rich with evocative descriptions of sensory experience. While they’re not easy to find, they can be inspiring touchstones. Write on!