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.

Advertisements

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?

First Story of the Lake Spirit

When she was younger, her favorite moments were swimming toward the full moon on a dark summer night. She would follow the trail the moon reflected on the lake, revealing another small part of the golden path after each smooth, silent stroke. She focused on the light, keeping her head above the water and moved slowly, trying not to make ripples on the surface. At these moments she felt one with the lake.

Once, she imagined following the moon so far that she could not turn back, eventually becoming exhausted and dying in its golden light. She welcomed this as a happy death and moved further along the path, but the lake suddenly changed. Surrounded by cold, she no longer felt welcome. Her nakedness was uncomfortable. The shore beckoned; her romantic longing to swim to the moon replaced by a need for carnal comforts: a hot shower; soft, thick blankets; and something warm to drink. Turning, she saw she hadn’t gone as far as she had imagined. She swam as quickly as she could, no longer caring about the waves and the noise she made. It felt like something was chasing her and about to grab her feet. Her burning muscles and searing lungs did not slow her. She bolted up the ladder and across the yard to the house. As she started to slide back the door, she heard a splash on the lake like the sound of a large fish jumping, making her pause to look back at the dark surface where circles of ripples moved out from the base of her ladder. Eventually, she realized that was the first time she met the lake spirit.

Creating Fictional Worlds: Not just Sci-Fi and Fantasy

Creating Fictional Worlds: Not just Sci-Fi and Fantasy

from empmuseum.org

I recently visited the Fantasy exhibit at the EMP museum in Seattle. In addition to the fun and inspirational drawings, costumes, and interactive computer exhibits, they displayed J.R.R. Tolkien’s hand written timeline. It was kind of him to reiterate the point of my previous post (Ha. Ha!). It also spoke to a related aspect of organizing one’s writing: World Creation.

Creating a world for the characters to walk around in is not just part of fantasy writing. Every story, even if it happens in present day down the street, is within a world created by the author. Any imagined world needs history, culture, language and architecture. And don’t forget the microcosms within this world: The symbols and colors, rituals, beliefs, or antitheses of set beliefs that influence and drive the inhabitants of this novel world. An author can leave a lot up to the reader, but everyone sees the world through his or her own perception. Defining everything in a unique world including its history, music, traditions and ceremonies, even if the setting is one’s own home, can help to close the gap between the author’s intentions and the reader’s perception.  Every genre, not just fantasy, is a place for world building. Spend some time creating a world for your characters. Draw it, paint it, and build dioramas if so inclined. Write, or listen to the music, research or create the traditions and ceremonies. I recently got excited about a microcosm in my story, leading me to think, for the first time, of the possibility of a spin-off series. The exhibit inspired me not only as a writer, but as a costumer and artist as well, so if you want to read more about it you can head over to the inspiration page of my creativity website mbercreations.com.

from art nerd seattle

Creating a world for the characters to walk around in is not just part of fantasy writing. Every story, even if it happens in present day down the street, is within a world created by the author. Any imagined world needs history, culture, language and architecture. And don’t forget the microcosms within this world: The symbols and colors, rituals, beliefs, or antitheses of set beliefs that influence and drive the inhabitants of this novel world. An author can leave a lot up to the reader, but everyone sees the world through his or her own perception. Defining everything in a unique world including its history, music, traditions and ceremonies, even if the setting is one’s own home, can help to close the gap between the author’s intentions and the reader’s perception.  Every genre, not just fantasy, is a place for world building. Spend some time creating a world for your characters. Draw it, paint it, and build dioramas if so inclined. Write, or listen to the music, research or create the traditions and ceremonies. I recently got excited about a microcosm in my story, leading me to think, for the first time, of the possibility of a spin-off series.

The exhibit inspired me not only as a writer, but as a costumer and artist as well, so if you want to read more about it you can head over to the inspiration page of my creativity website mbercreations.com.