Sunday, June 13, 2010

Write With Your Six Senses

Be a keen watcher. Be a sponge. Scan the people and the animals around you for gestures, expressions, habits, poses. Once you've honed your personal second nature for seeing, expand your sensory collection to your other four senses: hearing, feeling, smelling and tasting. Hear the unique inflections, patterns and dialogue in the conversations around you; feel the intoxicating plethora of tactile sensations during love-making; smell the evening jasmine in your father's garden; taste the grit of a desert sandstorm. All of these sensations, so many and so varied, are an invaluable cache of experiential fodder from which to build a richness of description into your writing. They provide a linguistic superstructure that bestows a three-dimensional reality to your scenes. They inform and influence everything in the composition of your fiction from dialogue to character to setting. In short, they are an essential component to giving your readers a convincing, emotionally engaging, full-fledged experience of the events in your narrative, a potent means through which to help your readers meet your characters.

Keep in mind, writing fiction is truly a creative process. Don't limit yourself to just reporting your collected experiences. Throw them into a box, shake the box around and see what kinds of interesting and contextually appropriate new syntheses you can form. I had a vignette where a character was surprised and bewildered. The second sentence in the scene is: "Crashing cymbals of bright radiance clanged before his eyes." Radiance is seen. Clangs are heard. Yet the dazed character "sees" the clang of cymbals. The discordant merging of sensory experience conveys the disorientation intrinsic to the vignette and it gives your readers an interesting, multi-sensory image to consider.

OK. I've made the case that your five mortal senses will give you more than enough material with which to weave a rich tapestry of description into the fabric of your stories.

But there's a sixth sense.

Strictly linear thinkers need not read further. Skip to the next post. The rest of you, please come this way...oh, and watch the little, dancing wood nymphs around your feet, young man. They're fragile and they don't appreciate being stepped on.

I've felt and experienced sensations beyond the traditional five senses. If any of you have "seen" inside the psychology of strangers walking past you at the mall or heard your pet's thoughts or watched a window shatter before your eyes for no reason or felt an empty kitchen blow dry, frigid air onto the back of your neck in the quiet stillness of a bright winter day, then you know what I mean. Unless one of these experiences is deeply personal or has an essentially private nature, consider including a description of it in your fiction. There's a first-person description of the afterlife in one of my novels. Yes, the novel's fiction. But almost the entirety of that vision is someone's actual experience.

Use your senses as a tool for creative writing...use all six of them.


  1. Interesting post! I do kind of know what you mean about the sixth sense. Trying to write it...well, not sure if I'm there yet. :)

  2. Thank you for visiting my space.
    Writing is a good therapy, and one should always be willing to write our thoughts out.

  3. Jennifer

    It's good to know that I'm not the only one with those "feelings." :) I agree - it's a real balancing act deciding what to share with the world through our fiction and what to keep to ourselves. That said, I do believe you'll just "know" when it's the right time to share a sixth-sense experience with your readers.

    Thanks for visiting my thoughts/blog!


  4. Rama,

    You're my first visitor from India! Great to have you join our conversations. Yes, I agree, writing is a form of therapy. It has certainly provided oodles of cathartic relief for me through these many years.

    I really liked the Khalil Gibran poem that you posted to your blog. I enjoy his writing; I find his work brimming with sensitivity and emotion. He was also a fairly accomplished sketch artist. I bet he frequently liked being alone and that he was gentle with animals and liked pastel colors...but those are just my guesses....and in the end, isn't that what fiction writing is?...our "guesses" about an alternate set of lives and circumstances?

    Again, thanks for joining us all the way from India!


  5. Mohamed,
    Thanks for stopping by my blog today.
    I definitely don't believe our senses are limited to the basic five. There is a greater power at work, God, and at times I believe we can connect with Him. Nothing else can explain the immediate calm felt after deep prayer. Or, as you mentioned, the bond that a person can experience with animals. And really, isn't emotional connection a sense? It's not seen or heard, tasted or smelled, it can't be physically touched. And yet it's there--we sense it.

    Okay I could ramble on forever, but basically I thought this was a great post!

  6. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and feelings, Megan!

    A Presbyterian minister taught me the Lord’s Prayer on the Mount of Olives at the site where Jesus is purported to have taught it to his disciples. Later that week, I stood at the base of Herod’s Temple (the Western Wall) in Jerusalem. I recited the Lord’s Prayer. A Muslim standing at a Jewish holy site reciting a Christian prayer, I felt the wall tingle and shimmer underneath my left palm. “I’m imagining it,” I thought to myself. Yet the tingling continued neither stronger nor weaker.

    Yes, prayer begets feelings of immediate calm. Sometimes it begets other, more tangible feelings as well.

    Thanks again for feedback on the post!

  7. Thanks for stopping by and posting your "Worst Query." I agree with this and attempt to put as many senses into my scenes as possible and not just what my characters "see." Adding what it smells like, a blurb of the taste of the air or especially food, the textures around them, and yes, the power of God in ones life, is present in my manuscript. All weaved in makes something powerful : )Have a good day

  8. Thanks, Bekah! In reading and looking through your blog, I get a strong impression that you're a person in touch with her senses, that you're a lover of life; that said, I'm not at all surprised that your writing, too, is a celebration of the many sensations that comprise human experience.

    Best wishes as you continue to finalize and perfect your manuscript!

  9. What a great post! Those moments of awareness are like whispers of the unknown/unseen to me. (I just love it when that happens.) I've never considered utilizing that rare sixth sense in descriptive fiction writing. You've thrown down the gauntlet. I'll have to do it now.

    Thanks so much for stopping by my blog.

  10. Thanks, Lynn! I think that you'll enjoy tapping your 6th sense for creative writing. It'll bring more of "you" into your compositions, making your stories and vignettes deeper and more meaningful, both for you AND for your readers. There is no greater end in our business than more meaningful writing.

  11. Excellent post! Writing from what we experience and know inside, as well, is essential.

  12. Thanks, Pris. I know that you practice "Writing from what we experience and know inside...." I've read your poetry; what a lovely mixture of raw honesty and vulnerability.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us!