Brain research can be just a tad intimidating, but it can also be incredibly useful for us as writers. Consider this fascinating fact: Although the “higher” region of the brain processes language, the brain is amazingly skilled at “rerouting” information acquired by reading descriptions to other areas of the body. According to a growing number of studies that use brain scans to track the physical and emotional impact of stories, when we read something, the language part of the brain is not the only area that responds.
Sensually evocative words like “lavender” and “cinnamon,” for example, trigger responses not only from the language-decoding parts of our brain, but also those devoted to processing smells. In short, for the brain, there is little difference between reading about an experience and actually encountering it — which is great news for us as writers.
Why? Mainly because, when we read about an odor or an image or a physical sensation, it engages the same regions of the brain involved in actually smelling, seeing, or touching it — and those areas of the brain lie alongside our emotional centers. In fact, activity in one area can literally stimulate activity in the other. This means that when you describe smells or images or physical sensations in your writing, you actually gain access to the are of the brain that handles emotions. This explains why stories that are infused with images, sights, sounds, and sensations can trigger strong emotional, heartfelt reactions.
A statement about an emotion: “the woman was dejected” — offers only abstract information, so it lands in the upper brain — the area of conscious thinking that processes language, math, and logic. On the other hand, a visual image like “the woman crumbled to the ground,” goes right to the lower brain, where it can then actually trigger the feeling of dejection in a reader. The message, the more abstract statements about emotions that you can replace with evocative sensory images, the more powerful your image will be. For more on this check out Wired for Story by Lisa Cron. And write on!