Smooth, Savory, Singing, Scintillating, Sweet Senses!
by Thea Hutcheson
Working all five senses into your manuscript makes it richer and involves your brain in the story to a large degree, based on an article in The New York Times . The brain doesn’t differentiate between doing something and reading a richly detailed description of something. It reacts the same to either, firing off a lot of synapses.
But how to get the senses in there?
This exercise gives you a way to think about all five senses and how they lie latent in any scene adding character and voice to the story.
Start out by closing your eyes and thinking about a place you know well. Let yourself sink into the place.
Now chose one sense and write a paragraph about the scene, concentrating only on that one sense.
Repeat for the other four senses.
Then choose one sentence from each paragraph and combine them into a single paragraph. This is hard, but this is just an exercise and they’re only words. They can be in any order, just so they make sense and add sensory detail to the scene.
Here’s my example.
Sense of Sight
The vegetable garden was brilliant, sprinkles of water reflecting a scattering of diamonds laid out in neat rows along a spectrum of greens. As a cloud moved in front of the sun, the hay flakes matting the garden turned from bright gold to flat yellow. Moving further into the rows, the green beans covered the ground, the new tendrils pale green against the deeper emerald of the leaves. I pushed them aside searching for and pulling the crimson weeds. It had been so wet this summer that the soil was perpetually dark muddy brown and crawling with red brown earwigs that scurried away from the light. The sun came out from behind the cloud and I was blinded momentarily as I looked up when Craig’s riding mower started.
Sense of Touch
I pulled my gloves off as I surveyed the mass of vegetables, goat’s heads, morning glory, and clumps of hay that sprouted from the straw scattered around to keep the moisture in. I have never been able to weed thoroughly with the gloves on, needing to feel the individual plants to know what I am searching for. The breeze across my sweaty hand was a cool breath, even though the sunshine was warm on my skin. Droplets of water tickled my feet through my Berks as I pushed into the green beans, stopping to carefully wind their tiny tendrils along the trellis. Raking the soft, feathery fronds of the carrots, I searched for weeds, cursing as the sticker of the goat’s head found my tender fingertip. It was amazing how wickedly the thing could sting even unripe. They were thicker and taller, strong and stiff with all the water and manure they pulled into themselves.
Sense of Sound
Blue jays argued in the black walnut tree at the back of the yard and two squirrels chased each other through the pear tree chittering and rustling the branches. Stalks swished against my jeans as I made my way through the tomatoes. The steady sound of the weeds letting go of their hold on the earth or snapping off if I pulled too hard and fast kept time with my humming. As I made my way down through the carrots, the cricket that had been chirping since I came out stopped suddenly. I jumped at the sudden sound of Craig’s riding mower two doors down roaring into life.
Sense of Taste
The breeze blew a strand of hair into my mouth and I pulled it out, the coarse hairs irritating my tongue, gritty between my teeth. I licked my lips and tasted sweat and Chapstick peppered with dust. I bent down and pulled weeds, jerking back sharply as a green goat’s head sticker jabbed my finger. I threw the wad of weeds into the bucket and looked at my finger. A bead of blood welled from my forefinger and I put my mouth to it, tasting salty copper and gritty dirt as I bit down a little to force more blood to cleanse the wound and overpower the bright sting.
Sense of Smell
The sun made everything smell thicker, richer as the leaves received the nourishment it offered and exhaled richly scented oxygen. A must of rotting straw, weeds, and wet dirt puffed up at each step. I reached down to rub the tomato leaves and sniff my fingers, although it wasn’t necessary. The sharp, spicy scent filled the air around me. Making my way through the rows, I smelled rich, wet soil. I pulled the weeds and they released their sap when I bruised their leaves and stalks. A few moments later the breeze mingled cut grass and diesel exhaust from Craig’s riding mower with the smell of rotting straw, bruised weeds, and food on the vine.
The vegetable garden was brilliant, sprinkles of water reflecting a scattering of diamonds laid out in neat rows along a spectrum of greens. Droplets tickled my feet through my Berks as I pushed into the green beans, stopping to carefully wind their tiny tendrils along the trellis. Raking the soft, feathery fronds of the carrots, I searched for weeds, cursing as the sticker of the goat’s head found my tender fingertip. A bead of blood welled from my forefinger and I put my mouth to it, tasting salty copper and gritty dirt as I bit down a little to force more blood to cleanse the wound and overpower the bright sting. A few moments later the breeze mingled cut grass and diesel exhaust from Craig’s riding mower with the smell of rotting straw, bruised weeds, and food on the vine.
Of course, you don’t have to do this every time. That would be too predictable and boring. You can pepper the senses in like a good oregano or a swish of satin or the stark beauty of statue in moonlight.
The point to the exercise is to get you in the habit of visualizing a scene by placing yourself or your character there and letting the senses come alive, telling you how to dress the scene.
Book Blurb for a short story called Message by Chotchkies.
When Maddie Robertson takes a job importing a statue of a Babylonian goddess from England to a gallery in Denver, it seems like a simple task–until a spirit in her house starts arranging the knick knacks on her bookshelf into messages of danger. When she researches further, she discovers the statue has a history of violence and despair. Maddie soon finds herself in the thick of the desperate position the spirit warned against. Worse yet, the knight the spirit showed her doesn’t arrive in the nick of time, leaving Maddie to work out a solution for herself or end up on the sacrificial altar.
More About the Author
Thea Hutcheson’s work has appeared in such places as Hot Blood XI, Fatal Attractions, M-Brane Issue 12, Baen’s Universe Issue 4, Vol. 1, the Beauty and the Beast Issue of The Enchanted Conversation, Realms of Fantasy’s 100th issue, and an upcoming story in Fiction River’s Recycled Pulp anthology. She lives in Colorado with two semi-feral cats, two hand-raised rescue cats, two thousand books, and one understanding partner.