Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Using More of the Senses In Fiction

My last entry discussed the senses of sight and sound, but we all know we use the acknowledged five senses, so this blog will cover the last three: touch, taste and smell. Though the first two senses are the ones that we almost take for granted in fiction and in our lives, the last three are equally important and help to bring our stories to life. Because these three are more difficult to recreate and to show, you need to put touch, taste and smell into forefront of your mind so you don’t overlook them in your novels.

Touch is one that, again, is often shown by comparison. His whiskers prickled like sandpaper or She fingered the rose’s peach-fuzz petals. Touch brings to life texture as well as the reaction to the texture. The latter example could show reaction by saying, She fingered the velvety tickle of the petals thus arousing a reaction. The descriptive words that help the reader’s recollection of a particular touch and his response to it include vivid verbs and adjectives. The grating sound of fingernails on a chalkboard applies the sense of hearing, but a sensation comes to life, too. The word grating is a touch sensation. His finger nails scraped across the slate, sending chills up her arms. In this case, the word scraped shows the kind of touch and sending chills shows a response.

In the same way sights and sounds can be both pleasant or annoying, so can the other scenes. In romance, the prickle of his whiskers can arouse a positive, intimate feeling to a romantic heroine, but the chills running up a person’s arm from scraping a chalkboard can be a negative. The response of the stimuli is based on the perspective of the character interacting with the sense.

Making a story come to life means allowing the character to feel the roughness of an antique sofa’s horsehair upholstery. It means reacting to the pain of a cat’s claws imbedding in a character’s arm or leg. Touch includes the sensation of wind blowing through a character’s hair, the chaffing of a rider’s legs against his horse, the feel of a sharp knife dragging along skin. In romance, it’s the hero’s gentle touch as he runs his index finger along the heroine’s cheek, and depending on the POV, the reader can experience the reaction through the hero’s or heroine’s eyes. The reaction to the touch would be different for each.

Smell arouses a multitude of responses from the scent of aftershave or cologne, to the stench of a rotting carcus, to the biting fumes of gasoline, to the sweetness of a rose. Interesting that odors can sometimes trigger taste, probably because the nose and mouth are connected and one stimulates the other. We often notice that a bad cold can affect our ability to taste food. This results mainly because we can’t smell it. So these two senses go hand in hand.

Smells often trigger a facial response—a grimace, wince, or smile, and scents can also trigger memories and cause nostalgia. Often we connect a scent to a person or situation. Women who were the same cologne for years find the scent becoming their trademark. When a friend smell this aroma, he will think of the woman. Homes sometimes have a scent – both positive and negative. A home that is very clean might has a lemony scent or smells of polish. When walking into a house, food-aromas can permeate the environment. A home where animals reside will often smell like the animals due to their dander and hair on the furniture and in the carpet. A dank odor comes from many basements, oil and gasoline smell is found in most garages. We could pass a bakery with our eyes closed and recognize the sweet, yeasty scent permeating the air. References to aromas add realism to a novel, but these references are best used when they help to deepen character or move the story forward in some way as well as to make the story more realistic.

As already mentioned, smell is enhanced by using dynamic verbs such as reeked or adjectives, such as pungent. These words help to define the odor. Her sun-baked skin, the burning cedar, the feted garbage, all of these are enhanced by the adjective, making them more real for the reader. By adding a character’s response, you can bring the scene to life even more. Her sun-baked skin warmed his touch. The burning cedar sweetened the air. The fetid garbage gagged him.

Taste is one of the least used senses because it is difficult to recreate. We do so by using adjectives that stimulate the readers imaginations—pungent, acrid, bitter, saccharin, gamy, honeyed, smoky, sharp, bitting, cutting, tart, sour, nutty, peppery, and salty. She swallowed the bitter bile. You can think of many more. Again it is often easier to use comparison’s when describing taste. Blood filled his mouth, tasting as if he were eating nickels. The thick sweet cough syrup coated his throat.

Sometimes a character’s reaction to a taste adds deeper purpose. Her mouth tingled with the fizz of the cola. The tart lemon bite into her cheeks and puckered her mouth. When we combine vivid language, with familiar comparisons and character reaction, you can recreate many of the senses that brings your novel to life.

Earlier I mentioned I like to add two senses other senses to my list—-motion and intuition. These will be covered in my next entry.