The Five Senses
· Transition between the present and important back story
Example: The fresh scent of rain combined with a moist earthy aroma. I stared out at the wilted fields. A curtain of humidity wrapped around me. The rain had come too late.
In this case the sense of smell opens the door to the scene and allows a transition that could take the reader back to the struggle to keep the crops alive and the introduction to the lives of those who depended on those crops. On the other hand, these particular details could also propel the story forward. What will the character do now?
· Tie the beginning of the story to the end
Since you’ll want to weave this sensory information throughout your story, it is an effective way to tie the beginning of the story to the end.
Example: I couldn’t bear the sorrowful faces filling grandmother’s house. I stepped outside for a breath of fresh air and headed to the garden where we had talked so many years before. The light floral scent of lilacs drifted lazily on the summer breeze. I breathed deep and closed my eyes. Grandma stood with me just as she promised. I could feel her.
In this case, we could follow the character through life as an adolescent to adulthood and tie it back to the beginning when they had a life-changing conversation in that same garden. Who knows, maybe even another niece or nephew could walk out to join the character—the thing is that the scent is the trigger to tie the past to the present.
· Evoke emotional responses to create suspense, happiness, fear and more.
Humans are emotional creatures by our very nature. The world around us offers stimuli and we react to it.
Example: The lights blinked and darkness swallowed the room. A surreal coldness fell upon her like a shroud. A slight scent of garlic reminded her of something. A faint memory that tickled her mind like wind brushing leaves of a tree on a summer’s day. She rubbed her arms and stepped blindly forward, her foot tapping in front of her like a blind man’s cane.
This short example can evoke an uneasiness when the lights go out. The coldness kicks up the tension. A hint of garlic would add a bit of curiosity—how does it fit in—what is it? She seems to know, but for some reason has blocked it out. Now she moves forward and we are in her skin. How do you feel?
Our bodies are designed with a network of nerves. This network sends information to our brains with no effort on our part. As a writer, you create that network from the story to the reader. If panic makes the hairs on the back of your protagonist's neck prickle, the reader should feel it. If they experience a touch of numbness in their index finger, it needs to be part of the information collected by the reader's brain—but the information must serve a purpose. If the reader knows of the numbness, they’ll know later on that the character can withstand an abnormal amount of pain using that finger. Sensory information needs to matter to the plot. The trick is to find the balance.
As writers, we need enough sensatory detail to make our fictional world real, but not so much that it bogs down the action. Think of it more like a trail of breadcrumbs; leading your reader down the path you want them to take. At times, it may even be a misleading trail. Such techniques can be used to create an unforeseen twist in the plot or action.
If you enjoyed the information in this article, check out Pumping Your Muse. The prompts and insightful information included in this creative writing book challenge the imagination to take new direction and if followed to the conclusion of the book, provide a detailed outline along with completed scenes and developed characters for one novel, as well as a solid start for a second novel.