Saturday I spent the day teaching writers at an all day workshop on a mountaintop south of my home. The redbuds and service berry trees were in full bloom, presenting red and white clouds over our Ozarks. A cool spring has held back the dogwood blooms, but they will soon pop out to finish the show with a flourish as graceful as drifts of snow over the leafless trees. And I thought, as I climbed from the car to go inside, what a delightful locale to teach the use of the five senses in our writing.
If we are truly to make our characters come alive, they must be as real as we ourselves. They must enjoy every sight, smell, touch, taste and sound of the world around them. So many writers leave out the senses, or they include only one. They see everything, but do not hear or smell it, or they smell the fragrance of the magnolia without telling it how the waxy leaves feel to the touch, or how the trees appear, their huge thick leaves a dark green against the blue of a winter sky.
As my fledglings read what they had produced in the first hour of the class, we talked about the five senses and how important they are in internalization, in point of view, in description. How without them, the writing lies flat as a board on a table. How, if we took away one of our own senses and tried to get through a day, it would be oh, so boring.
I tried to imagine the loss of sight as I stood outside gazing out across the Ozark peaks, dotted with red and white patches. Or taking a deep breath of the clean, mountain air, I wondered if I would appreciate what I saw half so much if I could not smell.
One of my greatest pleasures is walking barefoot through spring grasses, bending to touch the tiny spring beauties blooming in the pale green blades that poke up through the moist earth. Or kicking my way through the fall of colorful leaves, not barefoot this time, and listening to their chatter.
What a dull place would be a black and white, soundless world that felt smooth and uninterrupted, void of taste or smell.
While they began to speak of how to add these senses here and there like a sprinkling of salt so as not to overdo, we talked of what I call the sixth sense: emotion. Without that to add to the mix, that world would indeed be dull. Even the emotions of sorrow and anger have their place in spicing up our days.
While characters remain the most important of our creations as we write our stories, to think of those people without their “six” senses, is to write about dreary, dull and uneventful lives.
Here’s a link for you to take a look at.