Tag Archives: Sensory Language

Book Sense: Smell and Taste

30 Nov

Welcome to the last installment of the Book Sense series. We’ve already covered touch and sound and today I’ll cover the last two, smell and taste.

Here are the four I want to focus on today:

  • Unpleasant smells
  • Smells that invoke memory
  • Taste of something unknown
  • Tastes that invoke a sudden emotion

Yet again, please add more in the comments as you see fit.

 

Unpleasant smells: We tend to notice smells that are extremely pleasant or extremely unpleasant. I think the unpleasant ones are more striking and tell more about a story. The smell of decay can depict death. Fires have a distinct smell. There are a lot of negative smells that can help set a scene without having to describe it. The smell of a sweaty sock is bad but what about a neglected patient in a mental institution?

Smells that invoke memory: There are smells that will always remind me of things in my past. The laundry detergent my host mom used in Mexico is one I still remember eleven years later. Lilac will always make me think of my parents’ house and the old lilac tree in the yard. I think these memories can be very powerful and if used sparingly (maybe once or twice per story), can be very effective.

Taste of something unknown: I remember my first time trying Vegemite and (apologies to any Australian readers) how salty it was! I think descriptions of a new taste can help frame a character’s reaction. I think this is especially important in fantasy if an invented substance is being tasted. What does Mars vodka taste like if they don’t have potatoes?

Tastes that invoke a sudden emotion: Tasting bile in your mouth is a sign of great discomfort or dread. A mouth watering is a sign of hunger. A dry mouth can be fear. There are a lot of ‘tastes’ in our mouths that can show how a character is feeling without having to state it outright. And it’s always better to ‘show’ instead of ‘tell.’

There we are! Are there any other smell or taste sensations you think are important (or overused) in writing? Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Sense: Touch

28 Nov

Welcome to part two of the Book Sense series. Yesterday I talked about sound, today I want to talk about touch.

Here are the four I want to focus on today:

  • Character-to-character connection
  • Feel of an unknown item
  • Touch-induced emotions
  • Temperature sensations

Yet again, please add more in the comments as you see fit.

Character-to-character connection: This is probably the most important use of this sense I can think of. The feel of a friend’s hand on your shoulder, a creepy stranger’s bump against your hip, or a lover’s caress of the hair are all very important ways of experiencing touch in writing. It drives relationships and, thus, plot.

Feel of an unknown item: I have fantasy writing in mind when I think of this. I know what a wool blanket feels like. I don’t know what a blanket feels like when it’s made from the hair of a fictional llama-bird. When something is not commonly known, a description of it is very helpful to build a fictional world and physical touch description should be a part of that.

Touch-induced emotions: I talked about sounds that evoke memories yesterday and this falls into the same category. I also think a touch can induce an emotion. Personally, slipping into a pool to swim laps is one of the most calming things I can imagine. Once I’m underwater, I’m instantly at peace. I think slipping into bed can have the same effect. These shouldn’t be very common but they can be used well.

Temperature sensations: Changes in temperature are very noticeable so characters should experience them as well. Walking in on a winter day has an instant warming effect. Being outside after a run can start to feel cold in November (personal experience). Change in seasons or time of day can be marked with temperature instead of overt statements and I believe this is one that can be used frequently and still be effective.

There we are! Are there any other touch sensations you think are important (or overused) in writing? Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Sense: Sound

27 Nov

With a lack of topics and a need to write the posts for this week well ahead of time, I’m embarking on a series for this week that will focus on the sounds books can (and should) include. I’m going to skip sight because so much of a book is describing a picture (and because of my number of posts per week). Today, I’m going to start with sound!

I’ll pick four to start with.

  • Sound of a speaker’s voice
  • Background sounds for a setting
  • Sudden or startling sounds
  • Sounds that provoke a reaction or trigger a memory

If you have more, please add them in a comment.

The sound of a speaker’s voice: Now, this can be great if a character is going to have a unique way of speaking such as an accent or vocal tick. I really like it when used sparingly. For example, I could tell you my husband’s voice raises when he’s about to make a bad pun and then if I ever talked about his voice starting to rise, you could imply he’s about to make a bad pun. (Note: you could guess this every five minutes and be correct.) I think this can be used well to show the age of a character, too. High voices for a child or cracking voices for an elderly person. However, if used for every character or too many in a single scene, it can get old fast. Sparingly, it’s a great tool.

Background sounds for a setting: This is on my mind now because I have the Rumba running and clothes in the dryer. So before you picture me sitting alone in a quiet apartment, realize that the Rumba got stuck in my bathroom and the dryer buzzer is about to go off so I’ll be stepping away to unload the clothes. Little touches like this can make a scene. I’m writing this, but I’m busy! Maybe there’s a peaceful background noise if I’m writing out on the porch with the wind chimes blowing or I’m hiding from my husband’s friends if I can hear a football game. I like these touches when they add to the mood. If they don’t, they’re distracting and unnecessary.

Sudden or startling sounds: When a sudden action happens, I find a sound is usually attached. A gun going off, a door slamming shut, a car crashing, a glass shattering. These all have very jarring sounds associated with them. If I’m napping and my husband comes home, the door jerks open and I wake up. (Note: The dryer buzzer just went off. Timing.). Because a lot of fiction focuses on an inciting incident, I think the sound of that incident can be a great way to punctuate the action.

Sounds that provoke a reaction or trigger a memory: This is another one I’m going to say is best used sparingly. If there’s a memory that a character needs to share, sense memory is a great way to bring it forward. A sound like a baby crying or a balloon popping can trigger an emotional time for a character. When this memory moves the plot forward, I think it’s a good technique. If it’s building a character arc, I think it could be OK. If it’s filling paper, it’s a waste.

What are other times you like sound description in a book or story? Leave a comment and let me know!

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!