Exploring the senses – Hearing

Auditory stimuli have the ability to trigger physical reactions. The calming sound of rolling waves, or the alarming jolt caused by a popped balloon can influence how we act and feel. Sounds, especially music, can also trigger memories.

Exercise: To explore hearing, each member of writing group brought a song to listen to. As we listened, we jotted down all of the thoughts that came to mind for the duration of the length of the song. I found that each song triggered personal memories and vivid imagery.

As with all of the sensory writing exercises I’ll describe, the results are twofold:

1. Sound triggers memories and writing ideas.

2. The exercise brings attention to how one’s fictional characters may react to sounds and music based on their histories and circumstances (perceptions).

Describing sounds, how they are perceived and their physical and emotional effects on the characters will add realism and depth to your writing.

Examples of my responses:

St. James Infirmary by Alan Toussaint

Railroad tracks

Otis playing piano in N.O. w/Kathleen on stand-up

I expect to hear Tom Waits start singing at any moment

The piano in that horrible apartment which I almost never played

La Belle Dame Sans Regrets by Sting

Ballroom classes at that weird dance studio in Metairie where I first met Bridget

The black and white checkerboard floor and the floor to ceiling mirrors in the middle of an empty club

Helping teach ballroom at Ruby Fruit Jungle

Drinking a tiny strong coffee at a café in Paris

The drawing Spencer did of his cousin Marie

The program from a Sting concert I thumbtacked to my wall over my desk

Like a Virgin by Madonna

Going to the record store with my gift certificate for winning the talent show and Mom making the clerk play every song on the Air Supply album, then saying it was too suggestive and making me get M.J.’s Thriller instead.

Buying Madonna’s tape from a friend at church because Mom wouldn’t let me get it

I hope this exercise triggers all sorts of ideas for you. I’d love to hear some of them. Also, if you have other sensory exercises you have found useful, please send them along. I love trying new things.

Exploring the Senses – Vision

I apologize for the neglect. I was hibernating. Now, with spring on my doorstep, I return to sharing my writing life with the world of internet content seekers.

Over the next five weeks I’ll share explorations and exercises I did with my writing group in an attempt to incorporate all five senses (vision, hearing, smell, taste and touch) into our writing. I found focusing on the senses enhanced my writing in two ways: it triggered memories and brought depth to character and scene descriptions.


For our vision exercise, each member of the writing group brought at least two pictures they found interesting. One of these pictures was then passed to the person on his or her left. We wrote for five minutes about the picture we received. After reading what we wrote, the exercise was repeated by giving a picture to the person on the right. Not knowing the context of the image triggered surprising memories as my brain attempted to find meaning and make connections to create a story around it.



Where have I seen this before? I recognize it. She stared at the graffiti on the side of his apartment building. Usually the monochrome tags spray painted through the neighborhood were simplistic and boring, but this was a huge piece of art, a ten foot tall palm tree with a star over the top complete with light, shadow and coconuts. It reminded her of that Dos Equis Christmas commercial with all the lit up palm trees, but that wasn’t what was tugging at her memory. Maybe it was just déjà vu. She imagined the darkly clothed artist creating his image, a thief in the night, but with a compulsion to make, not take. How did he go unnoticed when he had to have used a tall ladder? Suddenly, she remembered. It had been carved into Léon’s left arm. Léon had been her liaison in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoir. He was the only person whose facial scarification, hadn’t frightened or repulsed her, but had enhanced his features. Though the lines were shocking at first, she eventually found them attractive. Maybe the painting she was still staring at imposed a lot more significance than being impressively large graffiti. She had to find out what it meant.

Try it for yourself. Rummage through some old photos and see what you come up with. I hope my work with this exercise inspires.