Writing with all your senses

“Get out of your head and into your senses” wrote psychologist Fritz Perls.  I doubt he had writing in mind when he said it, but it’s great advice for bringing our writing to life: capturing what we see, hear, smell, taste, feel… or evoking those same sensations in our readers.

This week’s slow links post highlights five examples of writing with all your senses.

1. Rosa Say picks up some writing advice from Walter Mosley on This Year You Write Your Novel.  One of his themes is writing without restraint, allowing your characters to live and breathe with all their senses and let the words - however shocking - spill out of you.  She highlights this section:

Your protagonist, for instance, may at a certain moment despise his mother. “She stinks of red wine and urine,” he thinks, “And she looks like a shriveled, pitted prune.” This is an unpleasant sentiment, to be sure. But does it bring your hero’s character into focus? This is the only question that’s important.

2. Brian Clark at Copyblogger gives us three ways to spice up any blog post - including the use of language that appeals to all the senses.

“While using visual language is critical, a sure-fire way to plant your ideas firmly in someone’s head is to appeal to all five senses.”

The post is a good read - but be sure and take it with a hefty pinch of salt

3. Liz Strauss gets us thinking about the sound as well as the meaning of words.  That might be the imagined noise they conjure up or the sound, the pattern, the rhythm of the words themselves.  This might help to explain why we have a ‘gut’ preference for some words over others.

“Sometimes I go for the musical ones — despicable sounds like a drummer drumming, sincerity sounds a tango is ready to begin.”

4. I mentioned the blogsite of Rachel from North London last week.  I’m now half way through her book Out of the Tunnel, where she writes - amongst other things - about the experience of being in the 7/7 tube bombings in London.  One early section that really struck me - and seemed to fit with the theme of this post - was her answer to the question that people put to her: ‘But what was it like?’  Here’s one small fragment of what she wrote.

“Night diving, without a regulator.  Breathing in liquid, drowning.  The taste of blood.  Sharp grit in my mouth.   Choking, lung-filling dust.  It was no longer air that I breathed by tiny shards of glass, and thick, heavy dust and smoke.  Like changing a vacuum cleaner bag and pushing your face into the open dust bag and taking deep breaths.”

Of course there’s more (and worse) about what the experience was like and it too is written with all her senses.  There’s also some amazing material about how the process of writing helped transform the experience and I’ll be coming back to that once I’ve finished the book.

5. Finally, Patricia at 37 days reminds us that there are times when our senses are so overloaded that it’s impossible to write.  Like if you were submerged in a submarine, maybe.  Or sweltering in the heat. As she says - with great use of sensuous language, proving and disproving her point at the same time -

I’m not able to write just now because - well, probably for many reasons - but the one I’m most keenly, excruciatingly aware of at the moment is that it is approximately nine kajillion degrees in my unairconditioned house during a heat wave of massive proportions, a humid, sticky, grumpy heat wave that produces sweat that actually hurts its wearer. I don’t do well in such heat; if the sorry truth were known, I become a madwoman demanding that my family eat nothing hotter than 2% Fage yogurt, ice cubes, and pistachio ice cream for dinner in silence, since words are too hot.

I hope you enjoy this selection of writing with all your senses.  I wonder what sensations they’ll evoke as you read them - a sweat so bad it hurts, the bite of a chili pepper, the feet-tapping start of a tango, or the choking spit of a mouth full of dust and glass…