The Five Senses

Picture a favorite scene from a favorite book…… I suspect you’re not only ‘seeing.’ Perhaps the snowscape is accompanied by the bite of a howling wind, cold ears and nose, the taste of chapstick, and the smell of the salt dumped on the road to clear the ice. Or you have a more peaceful scene in mind. Warm kitchen, smell of rising bread, sun’s rays glinting off dust particles as they shift across a table and chairs, the screech of the screen door.  We commonly describe what we see. But science tells us that smell is the most lasting memory (and we have a limited spectrum compared to our canine companions…. imagine what they remember!). Touch is important but we often take it for granted. In addition to sight and smell, we have sound and taste. Together they create our world. Every scene should have these elements – not shoved in per check list but included thoughtfully. Fully visualize the scene…. now take it a step further than what you see. What might you hear? The spoken word? Or a peaceful/ominous nothing? The absence of something expected is powerful. Why isn’t the creek babbling in the distance? Has it been dammed, frozen, emptied by drought? Or is the delicate babble of the creek slowly growing in the protagonist’s mind until it is a roar.  Now what do you smell? A meal being cooked? Or burned? A dog wet from a bath or from a daring race across a field on a rainy day? Is the wet dog a reminder of a routine Saturday chore or a hint at something very wrong at the neighbors? Taste can be a sip of exquisite wine setting up a memorable meal, or the metallic taste of adrenaline and uncontrollable fear. Touch is the pain of weary feet running barefoot three miles through snow for help or the inexplicably soft skin of a newborn baby. Is that the softness of hope? Or regret as the baby is taken away….. A friend once asked which sense I would give up if I had to choose. I waffled between taste and hearing. Touch is dangerous since without it you can’t feel heat or cold. Sight – even before the advent of audio books – meant a separation from reading and of course impacted so many aspects of daily life. Not being able to taste for a few days might give me a bump on my diet (certainly no need to have that piece of cake if I can’t taste it) but I do love food! Loss of hearing is isolating. In short, each of our senses play an important role in the complete picture of our life. If you do without one in your writing you are leaving out a piece of the world.   

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