#Writober 2019 Day 7: Tongue

tongue-flavors-300

physical sensations on the tongue

#OctPoWriMo

Today’s OctPoWriMo theme is Tongue, Tasting and Speaking. I wrote a post about taste back when I started this blog and did a series on exploring the senses. Today’s poetry form is Tongue Twister.

Bitter, Sour, Sweet

Flitter glitter emitter
jitter critter
transmitter
spitter embitters
sitter knitter

Deflower willpower
scour our shower
devour cauliflower
cower glower hour
in wallflower tower

Defeat deceit
complete browbeat
discrete elite cheatsheet
eat treat receipts
backseat heartbeat
concrete feet
meet, heat, repeat

 

#Writober4

The image for Day 7 on the Pinterest board shows two hands (the rising dead) reaching up the base of a tree that has a picture of a missing cat stapled to it.

My take: That zombie really wants a kitten, or perhaps the poor kitty got run over and the dead don’t want the owner to look for it anymore. Either way, the dead are rising and are interested in your business. It’s not a good sign.

Micro-fiction: Approaching the bookstore, I noticed a lost kitten poster on a tree. The kitten was so cute. My heart ached for the owner. Before I stepped up on the sidewalk, the ground shook. A warm gust flooded my nostrils with decay. Two large hands burst from the dirt and reached up the trunk of the tree as if reaching toward the kitten. I turned, got back in my car and drove home, vigilant for small creatures. One should pay attention to bad omens.

Writing Process and Tools

Plot-O-Matic: I thought we would switch things up today and use a different plotting tool. Follow the link to learn more about the plot-o-matic and how to make your own.

Today’s plot: A conspiracy junky–wants to be happy again–paints the kitchen at three a.m.

Creepy verbs: terrify, terrorize, bludgeon, force, dragoon

Story Cubes Symbols: padlock, flower, airplane, key, pyramid, sleeping person, die (dice), alligator, lightning bolt

Woodland creature: turtle

Horror trope: possession

Oblique Strategies: The most important thing is the thing most easily forgotten

Sleep on it: This morning, “sleep on it” actually worked for me. I woke up with the idea I needed for my story and went straight to writing. Remember to always keep a notebook and pens and pencils next to your bed. Don’t get up to get coffee or anything first. Get the ideas down, then go get your coffee. I am so glad I did.

 

Happy Reading and Writing!

 

Exploring the Senses – Finale: Using sensory information in your writing

image from asiadesignwithpurpose.com

image from asiadesignwithpurpose.com

Through this series on exploring the senses we (you and I) have explored all the major senses and more. We’ve experimented with how sensual stimuli trigger memories that can inspire writing and played with different ways to add sensory detail to our writing. Now, I want to talk about when and how to use this lush sensory information we’ve discovered.

While writing your first draft, feel free to write all of the sensory details for everyone and everything. During the rewrite however, it’s important to ask yourself: Did I add this detail because it tells the reader something important about the character, because it is an important element of the story, or just because I thought it was cool? If the honest answer is the last one, take it out. Even if you came up with the greatest way to describe the color of the sky or the smell of water, if the sensory detail is not important to telling the story, take it out. Don’t let this statement turn you away from sensory detail in any way. Most sensory details add depth to your characters and dimensionality to your settings. I solely wish to remind you to be aware of your readers. When you bring sights, sounds and smells to a reader’s attention, s/he will expect them to have importance and be let down if they don’t.

Unexpected sights: The little bunny and its surroundings looked normal at first, but upon closer examination the bunny was really a swirl of white dots, as if I could see its cells magnified in space.

Unexpected sights: The little bunny and its surroundings looked normal at first, but upon closer examination the bunny was really a swirl of white dots, as if I could see its cells magnified in space.

Creative mismatching of sensory detail is a quick cue to readers that they aren’t in Kansas anymore. A pink sky over yellow water that smells of asparagus is an instant cue that the reader is not on the earth s/he is familiar with.

Exercise: Create as many sensory mismatches as you can in 5 minutes. Use your favorite ones to imagine a place where this sensory information exists (i.e. another dimension, another planet, the center of the earth, an undiscovered land at the bottom of the ocean, under the melting ice caps, inside a future space station, etc.). Write a scene about a person experiencing this place for the first time using the sensory details you’ve created.

Inspiration from exercise: After staring at the bunny circles until it made me dizzy, I looked down, but down was no longer an option. I was separating into colorful cells, worlds within worlds orbiting each other. How did I still have my consciousness?

Inspiration from exercise: After staring at the bunny circles until it made me dizzy, I looked down, but down was no longer an option. I no longer had form. My cells now danced, worlds within worlds orbiting each other. How did I still recognize my consciousness?

I’ve enjoyed exploring the senses with you. Don’t forget to stop and smell the bad smells as well as the roses, and describe them in all their malodorous glory.

Over the next few months I’ll be working on the first rewrite of my current novel. As I work, I look forward to sharing my discoveries: what works, what doesn’t work, trials, tribulations and epiphanies. Please share your tips, tricks, suggestions, or questions along the way.

Exploring the Senses – The Sixth Sense

Playing ghost hunter on Halloween night. Ghost floutist or submarine?

Playing ghost hunter on Halloween night. Ghost flutist or submarine?

next shot no flute

The next picture zoomed in on same spot. The ghostly image is gone.

Though everyone agrees on the five major senses, neurologists and perception researchers believe there are more. Some think the main senses should be broken into  sub-genres. Others believe we have many sensory cell types leading to other senses including: balance, pain, temperature, time, body part location, and sensing internal organs. However, when we talk about the sixth sense, none of these other senses come to mind. The sixth sense is commonly understood as a blanket term for how we perceive everything that is considered paranormal (not scientifically explainable).

Writing about the sixth sense can put your story into the horror or fantasy genre, or it can add depth to a character. A character who believes she has psychic abilities can be odd, crazy, or in tune with things others cannot see depending on how the writer presents the sixth sense.

Exercise: What kind of psychic power do you wish you had? Choose one (mind reading, seeing the future, telekinesis, etc.) and write about a character who has it, or having it yourself. Is it a positive or negative experience? Are you able to use it to help others, or is it a torturous burden? How would this insight or ability change how you relate to others? Write for five or ten minutes.

Example: When we did this exercise in writing group I chose a clairvoyant who sees the future in her dreams. This is an expanded version of what I wrote in group.

Unless she passed out drunk, she always left her computer on playing reruns of television shows on repeat. The song at the end of each episode would wake her up just long enough to kick her out of REM sleep. It was the only way she knew to avoid the dreams. She had been doing it for over eight years and was sick of it. It’s nothing I haven’t seen before, she thought, as she turned off the computer.

After a few vivid demonic visages that almost convinced her she wanted to watch a comedy-mystery for the 10,000th time, she slept. The nightmarish images came in full color. It was a hot sunny day made nice by a breeze. She and Miss Opal sat at a café having a pleasant catch up chat when the bomb was thrown from a moped speeding by. The scene happened in slow motion: her head turning, the white helmet with the black reflective visor moving toward them, the brown paper package coming into view just as it was thrown. She hated the ominous seconds that felt like a lifetime in which the viewer wants to do something, but cannot move. She watched as her friends and neighbors blew apart, heard their screams and smelled their burning flesh.

The room was dark and quiet. The clock read 4:10 am. She wasn’t sitting up, crying or sweating. She was more angry than sad. Just because she had been talking to her dead friend Miss Opal didn’t mean the bombing would happen in New Orleans. It didn’t mean it would happen at all. She wouldn’t tell anyone or watch the news. Knowing never helped her help anyone, not even herself.

Let your imagination run wild. Explore more than one idea of the sixth sense. Is psychic ability a spiritual issue for you? Does the idea of a sixth sense bring up death and afterlife philosophies, or is it pure fantasy wish fulfillment?

Exploring the Senses – Touch

Touching Ostrich Feathers in a Brown Paper Bag

Touching Ostrich Feathers in a Brown Paper Bag (make sure you can’t see what you’re touching to do the exercise we did)

Touch is a sense most of us take for granted – until we’re lying on satin sheets, or picking glass and gravel out of a knee – but  touch is sensed through the skin which is the largest organ of our human bodies. The sense of touch is based on detection of mechanical energy, or pressure against the skin. Touch, like taste, can include sensing temperature and pain; these receptors also exist in the skin and can be perceived simultaneously. In our writing, texture can bring dimension to an object and a scene. I hope through this exercise you will find that touch, like the other senses, can also bring up memories and vivid images. Let your characters touch the textures that fascinate you. How do they feel? How do they react?

Exercise – Each member of writing group brought a mystery object in a paper bag. We each reached into each bag, exploring with only our fingers and wrote down everything that came to mind.

My responses:

  1. Wet. A large alien eyeball. Birds dropping pits on the deck. A warm summer day enjoying the ability to pick my lunch from the garden. Sticky hands and face from popsicles. Running after the ice cream man. Red white and blue rocket pops. Item: peeled plum.
  2. I was never good at ice skating. My weak ankles would wobble from side to side. I enjoyed floor hockey. The side texture (of the object) made me think of tines. I remember playing air hockey at the skating rink. I really liked the feel of the cool air coming up from the table. Item: a hockey puck.
  3. Soft edges on a crusty spine. I remember going to the peacock farm with my mom when I was little, so she could pick up some long colorful plumes for her huge ceramic vase in the living room. It reminds me of the hundreds of metal loops I clamped feathers into after carefully bending each feather with pliers for the huge shoulder harnesses to be worn at the Mardi Gras balls. Item: ostrich feather.

Unlike taste, touch was again quick to conjure vivid images and memories. I found it easy to identify what was in the bags without looking and had stories to tell triggered by the objects. My response to the peeled plum could read as a little poem to summer present and past (Maybe minus the alien eyeball. Guess it depends if I meet any aliens and get to touch their eyeballs this summer).

I look forward to reading your experiences with this exercise. Remember, your skin is your largest sensory organ with areas of different levels of sensitivity. Our hands and fingers may be the most sensitive and dexterous, but rolling around in the grass, or going for a swim could be a great place to start exploring your sense of touch.

Exploring the Senses – Taste

Tasting sweet, sour, bitter, salty and savory

Tasting sweet, sour, bitter, salty and savory

Smell and taste are frequently stimulated together. The smell of food, for instance, greatly enhances its flavor. However, taste is a distinct sense from smell and should not be overlooked when describing your characters’ sensory perceptions. There are five well recognized types of taste receptors. These sensations are categorized as sweet, bitter, salty, sour and savory (often referred to with the Japanese word Umami). While exploring taste, I recommend finding ways to experience all five even though some of the taste sensations are not completely pleasant.

Exercise One: Gather things to taste that will activate all of the areas of your tongue. Also try some different textures. I tried soy sauce (Savory/Umami), lemon juice (sour), Agave nectar (sweet), Tonic water (bitter), pita chips (salty and crunchy) and plain Greek yoghurt for a smooth texture. Spend time moving each taste around your mouth and write down everything that comes to mind.

My example (Remember these are just notes. Forgive the incomplete sentences.):

Lemon Juice – More of a restrictive feeling on the tongue than a flavor, first on the right side then strongly at the back of the tongue. It stays in my throat and then I can feel it at the back of my sinuses.

Liquid Aminos (like soy sauce) – I feel it in the center top of my tongue. It is salty, but not from salt. It tastes brown like bear fur or the soft bark of a rotting tree.

Pita chips – do not taste as salty as the Liquid Aminos. The crunch is satisfying, makes me feel contented. My teeth feel sturdy and powerful. The bread flavor lingers as the crumbs liquefy and my tongue removes the leftovers from the bowls of my molars.

Tonic Water – Leaves a sour aftertaste at the top back of my mouth. All it is is sour aftertaste. It grabs the front of my tongue, but the bubbles carry it quickly to the top of my mouth where it lingers.

Agave Nectar – has a bit of a thick brown Molasses flavor though it is supposed to be the light neutral flavor. I don’t like it. I stick out my tongue and say “Eh.”

Greek yoghurt – It is cool on the tip and top of my tongue. Sour in aftertaste. A little vanilla or sweet at first. I feel the tang right at the top center of my mouth. I enjoy moving the thick silky texture around my mouth which I find odd because I hate the texture of pudding and it is very similar.

I was surprised that my notes were mostly physical descriptions of the feelings in my mouth. I did come up with a little bit of imagery that may be useful in my writing. I think I’ll try this exercise again sometime in the future with fruits and vegetables and also with a meal.

physical sensations on the tongue

physical sensations on the tongue

Exercise Two: With your new insights and sensory awareness from exercise one, take your main character out to dinner. What is his or her favorite food or restaurant? Why? What foods, smells and textures does he or she hate? Why? Once you get to your table start taking notes. How does your character make menu choices? Did s/he know what to get before arrival, or are menu decisions difficult? When the food arrives try to perceive everything about the meal as your character. Remember that the smell, texture and taste are all part of the taste sensation. Take notes of everything that comes to mind. If you invite people to join you and your protagonist on your taste adventure, make sure to clue them in to what you’re doing. You wouldn’t want them to think you were being rude to them, taking notes about them, or just plain crazy.

Exploring the Senses – Olfaction: The Sense of Smell

The sense of smell triggers emotional memories

The sense of smell triggers emotional memories

The sense of smell, more than any of the other senses, can trigger strong emotional memories. The olfactory system is physically wired for it. Unlike the other sensory pathways, the olfactory bulb has a direct connection to the amygdala (emotion) and hippocampus (memory consolidation). When you want to trigger your fictional character’s memory, you may want to figure out why s/he likes, or dislikes certain smells.

Preparing to explore the sense of smell was an exercise in itself. In the search for smells to trigger memories, I went scavenging at my childhood home. I started in the kitchen, looked around my old room, but hit serious pay dirt in my sister’s and my bathroom. I found small bottles of perfume I had received as gifts, lotion, an empty bottle of shampoo that still had a strong smell, and other forgotten stinky treasures. This adventure to my childhood home on the hunt for scents inspired a piece of writing before even doing the exercise.

Smells Like Home

She looked around the cold, empty kitchen. She wanted to make it feel like home again; warm and inviting as if they were all together staring at the TV in a tired, after school daze. She chose the French vanilla coffee from the ten different bags, in variable stages of use, in the freezer and started the pot. Her mother didn’t drink coffee and her dad drank instant. Did he drink instant because making coffee was woman’s work, or did he never bother to figure out the coffee pot? She didn’t know the answer. The only time there was coffee in the pot was for special occasions. Though her coffee was dripping in a regular plastic coffee pot, the sound of the coffee brewing reminded her of the tall silver percolator her mother set on the counter for every social gathering. She smelled the familiar earthy musk mixed with sweet and nutty aromas and she imagined everyone squeezing into the kitchen to help prepare the huge family meal. She thought of the Christmas get together with the lively white elephant gift exchange and smiled.

She went to the refrigerator and pulled out the huge block of orange medium cheddar which her mother always kept in the clear center drawer. The bread was on top of the fridge, though not in the stack of bowls like it used to be. They didn’t have the wonderful, hazelnut bread for her today, so wheat would have to do. She buttered the bread and started to slice the cheese. Remembering her mission to explore the smells of her youth, she held the slice up to her nose. Instantly, she pictured the cat that had been so crazy about cheese you could get him to walk on his hind legs and turn in a circle if you held cheese over him. He would be in the kitchen meowing loudly before you could even get the cheese out of the plastic wrap. He was the only one of Tatiana’s kittens they kept. What was his name? The smell of cheese didn’t bring that back. What a strange thing to forget.

Exercise: Gather a large selection of smelly objects that may trigger memories (I tried a sampling of gum and candy from my childhood along with the things I found in my childhood home). Don’t just look for good smells try some bad ones as well (I tried Witch Hazel, Noxema, and stinky perfume. Be creative. Try everything you can think of). In a group, smell the different objects and write down everything that comes to mind. Pick one smell that affected you the most and write about it for 5 minutes.

My example:

I had heard Ivory soap was invented to float, so I picked up a bar to clean myself in the lake while my septic was backed up—again. This was the second time in three years and when it happened the first time, I’d been without water for three months. At least this time it was warm. I got up before light and ripped open the plastic coated paper wrapper. The strong smell of the freshly opened bar of soap reminded me of the upstairs bathroom in my grandfather’s house. Specifically sitting and reading the wallpaper that looked like pages from a catalog from the old west. I remember the brown drawings of high button boots and a wood stove with prices a child collecting her pennies could afford. I don’t remember using Ivory soap during my annual week long summer visits. The soaps in the dish were small and shaped like flowers, but this was the smell of that bathroom. I decided I didn’t want to smell like grandpa’s bathroom. I didn’t care if the soap sank to the bottom of the lake. I hunted around the cupboard beneath the sink and found some old body wash. It was probably more environmentally friendly anyway.

I hope you try this exercise and enjoy exploring sensory description. I’d love to hear from you. Please leave comments and suggestions. Thank you.

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.

Exercise-

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.

Example-

Image

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.