Skip to content
November 23, 2010 / theoldsilly

Professor Old Silly Tutorial Tuesday – Use All Five Senses

Welcome back to Bloggyversity, English Comp Class 10001.3b, “Writing With Power in Fiction”. Take your seats, please class, I need your full attention, as in immediately. I have another very important tea and crumpets date with Ms. Flanders in just ten minutes, so stop with the flirting and sophomoric shenanigans, turn off your ipods, cell phones, black and/or raspberries, stop with the twittering, get your faces out of Facebook, boot up your monitors, straighten your drawers, set your butts in your seats and be quiet. I’m in no mood for your typical silliness. Plus if you’re good I have some more fresh-baked cookies for you all after class, courtesy once again of the lovely Ms. Flanders.

That’s much better. Ahem. Today I’d like to discuss bringing scenes alive with the use of all five senses: smell, taste, touch, hearing, and seeing.

A good writer can unlock images in the reader’s mind that are just as, if not more, vivid as any state of the art movie. But in order for our scenes to come to that level of ‘aliveness’ in the reader’s mind and imagination, we must incorporate all the five senses. In having this ability, we as writers hold a distinct advantage over the movie maker, who is limited to visual and auditory input only.

As you write and, more importantly, as you do your self-editing and rewriting on your manuscript, ask yourself: what are the sounds, smells, tactile feelings, visual images the characters are experiencing? What kind of tastes are in their mouths? Can you ‘see’ all this in the prose? If you, the writer, cannot, most certainly the reader cannot either.

So load your writer’s gun with all five bullets and fire away. Blast that scene wide open into the reader’s mind. Let’s  look at a short scene where there is little sensory input included.

~~~~~

John said to Mary, “Where would you like to go tonight? It’s our date night, you know.”

“Mmmm, I don’t know,” she said, staring out the window. “You decide.”

“Well, don’t sound so excited, dear.” John got out of bed, sat at the corner desk and sighed. “Are you up for going out at all? You haven’t been yourself here lately. Something I did or said?”

She got up, walked across the room and pecked him on the cheek.” Sorry, baby, it’s not you. I’m on my period. Again. Three periods in two months. Sick of this …,” she rolled her eyes and hesitated, then groaned out, “… crap.”

He touched her lower belly, rubbed it and invited her to sit on his lap, which she did. They kissed. He stroked her hair and said, “Then how about we just stay in tonight. I’ll cook. Get a bottle of nice wine. We’ll cuddle up on the couch and watch a movie. That be better?”

She smiled for the first time that morning, stroked his chin with her hand. “That’s sweet of you, John. Okay, it’s a date.”

~~~~~

Now, we can ‘see’ the scene somewhat, but we are not really getting all the senses activated, especially we do not ‘feel’ and sense all of what John and Mary are experiencing. Let’s look at the same scene and get some inside sensory input happening. I will use Mary’s 3rd person POV for this rewrite.

~~~~~

John said to Mary, “Where would you like to go tonight? It’s our date night, you know.” He sat up in the bed, threw the blue comforter off his hairy, bare legs and stretched them, letting out a loud yawn.

“Mmmm, I don’t know,” she said, feeling languid, staring out the window at the bleak, misty, gray day. “You decide.” Ugh, my breath smells. Better brush my teeth. A sharp pain made her grab at her stomach.

“Well, don’t sound so excited, dear.” John got up, sat at the corner desk and sighed. “Are you up for going out at all? You haven’t been yourself here lately. Something I did or said?” He raised his shoulders and eyebrows in question.

Men, she thought, can’t they intuit anything? She got up, walked across the room and pecked him on the cheek.” Sorry, baby, it’s not you. I’m on my period. Again. Three periods in two months. Sick of this …,” she rolled her eyes and hesitated, then groaned out, “… crap.” She clapped both hands on her thighs and drooped with a weighty exhalation.

He touched her lower belly, rubbed it and invited her to sit on his lap, which she did. They kissed, she making sure is was not a French kiss … no need to put this taste in his mouth. Late night pizza? With anchovies? Meh … might kill the poor man. Another menstrual pain caused her to wince.

He stroked her long, thick, black hair and said, “Then how about we just stay in tonight.”

The feel of his large, yet gentle hands was soothing. She nestled her head against his as he said, “I’ll cook. Get a bottle of nice wine. We’ll cuddle up on the couch and watch a movie. That be better?”

She smiled for the first time that morning, stroked his stubbly chin with her hand, enjoying the manly roughness. “That’s sweet of you, John. Okay, it’s a date.”

~~~~~

Better, hmm? Now, you might say I overdid it, there is a lot of info in a rather short scene, it’s very close to ‘data-dumping’, but that is because I am emphasizing a point in a brief tutorial. But as your scenes unfold, make sure that all the possible combinations of sensory inputs are put into play. In this way we create a more enjoyable, believable, ‘see-able’ and ‘experiencable’ story.

Okay, class dismissed, as usual leave your comments on my desk, and I must say . Wow! You’re all still here … Gold stars for everyone, and please help yourself to these still warm fresh-baked cookies Ms. Flanders was kind enough to bake for you all.

Ooops, my cell.

“Yes, yes, Ms. Flanders, I’m coming, be right with you – and I just have to tell you how wonderful my class behaved today. Yes, yes, I agree .. mmmhmm, I’ve definitely noticed a much better attitude amongst the students once I took your advice of serving your baked goods at the end. ‘Kay, hang on, here I come.”

“Oh, class … no more than two apiece, please? Let’s be good and share, now …”

Click on Tweety Bird and Tweet this post if you liked it!

Tweet Me from The Old Silly's Free Spirit Blog

Advertisements

27 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. Kissie / Nov 23 2010 8:18 am

    It’s a much better view.

    CommentLuv will reward your readers. 😉

    • theoldsilly / Nov 25 2010 8:37 am

      Seriously, Kissie? I WILL get to CommentLuv, dearest … hmmm … maybe a good NY’s resolution? 😉

  2. Ron Berry / Nov 23 2010 9:54 am

    “They kissed, she making sure is was not a French kiss … ” Good sentence there old silly. But, point well taken. I tried taste. I licked the screen. Yuck, need to wash the blamed thing.

  3. tashabud / Nov 23 2010 10:00 am

    So, when I do send my manuscript to you written this way, you’re not going to be telling me to pare it down some? Right?

    Mary’s problem reminds me of mine, unfortunately. LOL.

    • theoldsilly / Nov 25 2010 8:39 am

      Oh there’ll be some paring to do, trust me, lol. But also adding if needed. 🙂

  4. Vivian Zabel / Nov 23 2010 10:46 am

    I find I do use some senses more than others, but I do use them all when applicable. Good advice.

  5. Alex J. Cavanaugh / Nov 23 2010 2:18 pm

    I’m getting better at including smells. My sense of smell sucks, so I tend to forget that one.
    And thanks for the cookie!

    • theoldsilly / Nov 25 2010 8:40 am

      You’re welcome. And you should try writing a character with a poor sense of smell – could add some dimension by subtraction!

  6. Hilary / Nov 24 2010 3:32 am

    Hi Marvin .. thanks you’ve elucidated it really well .. it’s those extra touches, without being too overt about it – and I felt as though I could have been there .. ie it was us .. human normal reactions within the scene .. great to have it so simply set out .. Have a good Thanksgiving .. Hilary

    • theoldsilly / Nov 25 2010 8:40 am

      Thanks, Hilary – and Happy T-Day to you, too!

  7. anu / Nov 24 2010 5:44 am

    Very nice flow.Good article

  8. Helen Ginger / Nov 24 2010 9:20 am

    Good example of how even small strokes showing senses can make a big difference.

    • theoldsilly / Nov 25 2010 8:41 am

      Coming from an editor like you, that’s a nice compliment, Helen, thanks. 🙂

  9. Amr Boghdady / Nov 25 2010 12:32 am

    Wow, I see I’ve never used any of the 5 senses except for 2
    I must have been a really bad writer

    I’ll try to use the examples you’ve provided though, thanks for sharing 🙂

    • theoldsilly / Nov 25 2010 8:42 am

      You are most welcome, Amr. Love your moniker, btw.

  10. Stanley Berber / Nov 25 2010 8:43 am

    Thank Ms. Flanders for the cookies, thanks for another fine class, and Happy Thanksgiving, Marv!

  11. Cactus Annie / Nov 25 2010 8:44 am

    Great teaching by example as usual, Old Silly. Happy Turkey Day to you and yours!

  12. Mitch / Nov 25 2010 9:35 pm

    That was very nicely taught. Writing skills of a sort, eh? You teach a much more detailed bit than I ever could; maybe I need you to help me with my fictional writing. Great stuff; thanks for the assistance!

    • theoldsilly / Nov 26 2010 5:53 am

      You are most welcome – good to see you here at Free Spirit, Mitch!

  13. Ryan / Nov 26 2010 3:40 am

    It is really great post, thanks for your sharing Marvin. Nice to meet you.

    • theoldsilly / Nov 26 2010 5:54 am

      Thanks, Ryan – stop back in any old time. I’ll have to come visit your blog, too. 🙂

  14. Val Erde / Dec 1 2010 6:06 pm

    John looked at Mary and wondered why she wasn’t paying any attention to him. Was it the socks on the kitchen table, sitting on their plate like gorgonzola gone on a running spree? Was it the fart that had just emitted from his ass overhanging the kitchen sink where he had plunged his blubbery cheeks a moment before? And why was she spraying the room with something that smelled like a Victorian old lady’s underwear drawer? Could it have been any of these?

    “You seem miles away, John,” Mary said, wondering if the pain in her belly was wind or worse and if menopause would be very long coming, because she sure as hell in Antarctica didn’t want to take any more of this…

    Now look what you’ve done, I’m new to your blog, I haven’t written fiction in years (apart from the weirdness that passes for blog posts) and you’ve got me writing. Are you a wizard? Are you a cupcake? Something in between maybe? I must look at your ‘about’ page. I hope there is one…

    • theoldsilly / Dec 1 2010 6:15 pm

      And you write WELL, Val! Pulled me right into the room with your deliciously descriptive prose. Hope we will see more of you here on Free Spirit. 🙂

  15. Val Erde / Dec 2 2010 6:05 am

    With compliments like that, you certainly will!
    😉
    Come by my blog sometime, too.

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

%d bloggers like this: