So, hey! What are you doing? Like, what are you doing right…..
Are you sitting at your desk, feeling the warmth of the mouse under your finger as you click through your morning blog posts? Or maybe you're reading this on your smartphone. In that case, is your fingertip trailing over that tacky spot from the Diet Coke you drank yesterday? And hey—what's that noise? You don't hear it? Huh. It sounds like the garbage truck is running over someone's trashcan lid again. Cruuuuuunch. And ooooh! Who popped blueberry muffins in the oven? I'd recognize that sweet, buttery smell anywhere. My mouth is already watering for the warm, crumby goodness.
What was that? You don't smell anything? Or hear anything?
Well…I guess that's not entirely surprising. See, when you're multi-tasking with work and family and writing and life, it's hard to miss out on those little things happening around you. Little things like Touch and Sound and Smell and Taste. Things you don't even think about anymore because everyone's always in some kind of huge rush to get to the next task-at-hand. I'm not blaming you. Heck! I'm guilty of this, too.
But when you're a writer, you can't dismiss these 'little things' because these are the details that add layers of authenticity to your writing. They're the extras that make a reader go, "Oh, right! I know exactly what she's talking about here."
I'm referring to SENSES. I'm referring to SENSES other than Sight. If you noticed, I didn't mention anything about Sight in my
slightly cheesy intro. It's not because I have anything against it – trust me, I don't. It's a perfectly delightful sense. I love seeing my daughter's dimple when she smiles at me first thing in the morning. But the thing about Sight is that…well, sometimes we rely on it too much when we tell our stories. A frown, a wink, a shrug of a shoulder—all necessary actions to show what's going on behind the words on the page…but is that all that's going on?
To answer this question, I have an assignment for you!
No groaning. It'll be fun. Promise! <-- See the exclamation point? Fun!
When you have a moment today or tonight or sometime this week, do me a favor:
Put on a blindfold.
Once you’ve done that, I want you to pay attention for fifteen minutes.
That’s it. (Told you it was easy!)
No, really. I don't want you to do anything except soak in every sound, touch, taste, and smell during this time period. Sit outside and do it. Sit inside and do it. Go to the mall and do it (but maybe don’t blindfold yourself at the mall unless you want security called on you). Honestly, it doesn’t really matter where you complete the exercise.
The whole point is that sometimes it’s best to turn off your eyes for a little bit and pay attention to the world around you. I’ve said it before that I believe as writers, we’re creators and as creators, we’re also visual by nature. But being too visual can be harmful to your writing if you're not balancing it with the other senses.
A couple of years ago, I wrote a story where my teen protagonist was blind. In the beginning, it was complete crap. It was a NaNo novel so I didn't worry too much about anything except getting words on the page. I wasn't done with the story after November, so I did some research to salvage whatever was left. Aside from reading articles and interviewing a girl who’d been without sight her whole life, I also walked around my house for half a day with a scarf tied around my eyes. It was the Hardest. Thing. Ever. I realized I totally took my sight for granted on a day-to-day basis and when I shut it off completely, everything seemed so much louder, smelled so much stronger, felt so much deeper, than it ever had before. I also realized I couldn’t tell the difference between a peach and a nectarine when my sight was blocked and wearing a bib for lunch was non-negotiable. Also? Using the restroom is HARD when you can't see what you're doing. Anyway, the story still ended up being crap (who knew you also needed something called a PLOT?), but I had some really great details that made it worth working on for a while.
So my tip for today is to turn off your sight.
Don’t worry about having a pad of paper and a pen near you. Don’t worry about “What if nothing exciting happens during this time?” Just feel the breeze tickling the hair on your arms. Hear the car tires sliding over the gravel. Taste the bitterness of toothpaste mixing with that last sip of your morning orange juice. Smell the crumbs burning at the bottom of your toaster. (And maybe peek your eye open to make sure nothing’s on fire.)
But set the timer for fifteen minutes, turn off your eyes, pay attention to those other senses, and tell us in the comments field about something you experience. How will this help you in your WIP? What tips do you have that help you gain a better handle on the senses? Comment and fill out the entry form below to enter to win a copy of The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson – one of my ALL TIME FAVORITE YA novels that practically drips with every sense known to man! We’ll announce the winner next Tuesday. (Contest will run until next Monday at 8pm EST and entrants must live in the US.)
Here are a few links you should check out on Sensory Detail and how you can use it to make your writing pop:
- Agent Scott Eagen on showing (and not telling) with your senses [http://scotteagan.blogspot.com/2010/04/use-your-senses-way-to-show-and-dont.html]
- Darcy Pattison on how to use sensory details in your writing [http://www.wow-womenonwriting.com/40-FE3-SettingDescription.html]
- Editorrent on the words we use to narrate physical senses [http://edittorrent.blogspot.com/2010/08/language-of-senses.html]
- Renee Gray-Wilburn on bringing our stories alive with sensory details [http://awaywithwordswriting.wordpress.com/2010/09/20/adding-sensory-details-to-your-writing-part-1/] and Part 2 [http://awaywithwordswriting.wordpress.com/2010/09/30/adding-sensory-details-to-your-writing-part-2/]
- And really, if you don't already follow The Bookshelf Muse –what are you waiting for??? This blog is a treasure trove of every sensory detail you can THINK of! [http://thebookshelfmuse.blogspot.com/]
Happy Sense-Discovering! (Oy, that didn't come out right, did it? You know what I mean!)