It’s no secret that tapping into the senses can bring a scene to life. But how many senses are there? If you said five, or even six, you’re only scratching the surface. Today multi-published, best selling author LUCY MONROE discusses how to add punch to your story by writing with visceral impact. Scroll down to find out about Lucy’s GIVEAWAY!
In 2010, I attended a workshop at the RT Booklovers Convention given by Marilyn Kelly entitled, “Eleven Senses – Who Knew?” She’d discovered, while doing research on the Net that while they do not all agree, many scientists recognize 11 senses at this juncture in time. She found that fact as fascinating as I do and set about creating a workshop based on these 11 senses. She’s also written a lovely little book by the same title with a list of useful vocabulary for each sense available at Amazon. I highly recommend getting it for your reference shelves.
As writers, we look for ways to make our books more visceral for the reader. For plotters, this might include keeping note of emotional impact for the scenes one intends to write. For pantsers, this will often lead to rereading and working a scene until we can feel every single word deep in our gut, ourselves. Whatever the author’s process, it is no coincidence that the masters of this art are often at the top of the bestsellers lists and even more importantly, on our keeper shelves.
What could be more helpful in bringing a personal emotional reaction to the reader than appealing to her senses on the deepest level? But how do we do that? It can’t be as simple (and conversely complicated) as going scene by scene to make sure all of the senses are mentioned – as one workshop presenter suggested to me many years ago. Can it?
For me, writing has always been an organic process…one in which the story grows like a living thing from the seeds planted in my imagination. But I firmly believe that the more we know, the easier it is for that organic process to flourish. I may not use 90% of the stuff I research for a book, but having it at my mental fingertips, makes the story more real because what I do use, is done so within the process itself. Not as an add-in later. I’m not saying we can never go back and fill in (of course we can and do that all the time), but feeding our subconscious plenty of fuel gives our imagination the opportunity to fly, when we take off from the runway.
Okay, enough metaphors and on to our topic. Sense comes from the Latin sēnsus and originated between 1350 and 1400. It means any of the faculties by which humans and animals perceive stimuli originating from outside or inside the body. Another more common definition given is: any system that consists of a group of sensory cell types that respond to a specific physical phenomenon and that corresponds to a particular group of regions within the brain where the signals are received and interpreted.
In order to appeal to all of our senses, it’s helpful to be aware of what they are. I say helpful, rather than necessary, because I think that we often instinctually include senses we were certainly never taught about in school. Most of us were taught about “The Five Senses” in kindergarten, with the implication being that they were the only senses mankind is aware of.
Certainly, the 5 senses listed in Aristotle’s original model are hugely important in our writing. I’ve challenged myself writing characters hindered in one of them and I’ll tell you now, it was no easy task. We take for granted our character’s abilities to see, hear, touch, taste and smell and our reader’s ability to identify with those senses. But what of these senses beyond the first five mentioned by Marilyn and Wikipedia (not to mention several other resources)?
What are they and how do they differ from the original 5? I’m not going to list all the ones found on Wikipedia, nor even in Marilyn’s book, but I will be discussing the senses (beyond the original 5) that I find most helpful in creating a viscerally impacting story. However, if you are interested in researching these yourself, please see the footnotes to this article.
Equilibiroception: think about your movement and balance and that which allows you to sense them in yourself and others. This is a particularly interesting sense because it can be impacted by emotion, not just physical realities. This is where our characters may sense that they are moving in slow motion, or be dizzy for no good reason other than what is going through their head and/or their hearts.
Thermoception: this is our sense for distinguishing heat and the absence of cold. Again, I find this an important sense to pay attention to because emotional distress can make a body feel frightfully cold and horrifically hot (think heated blushes, or the hot prickle of embarrassment). Unfortunately? Perimenopause can do the same darn thing and man is it annoying, but I digress…
Nociception: oh, the pain of it all! (Okay, I’m channeling my 3-year-old granddaughter here, but I couldn’t resist.) Nociception is due to specific pain receptors in our body and gives us the message when damage is being done to it. Adrenalin can block these receptors, but more intriguingly we can will our bodies not to respond to them. Hence my latest heroine who doesn’t give up her unwitting informant despite being tortured. This is an important sense and can be used to great impact to bring the reader into the story. If you’ve ever had your heart truly broken, you know that it can be a very real pain in your chest cavity…and so do your characters.
We have esophageal senses that allow us to perceive swallowing, vomiting, etc. These receptors are real and account for the choked feeling in the throat when faced with a situation that calls forth deep emotions.
Thirst: just exactly what you think it is. The sensation of thirst tells our body when we need more fluids, but it can also show itself in a dry mouth brought on by nerves or stress.
Hunger: that empty feeling in your stomach that comes from needing food…or the certainty that emotional pain is staring you in the face.
Magentoception: while not as developed in humans as animals, it does exist within us to sense magnetic fields in the earth and thus give us whatever inborn sense of direction we might have. (For me this would be nil, but for my sister it allows her to navigate cities she’s never been in without a map and always find where she’s going.)
Sense of Time: it’s debated as being a true sense, but we know it’s real. We can sense not only the time of day or night, and get discombobulated when this sense is off…but also have the sensation of time standing still, or moving too quickly to grasp. As can our characters to great effect.
For those, like me, who write paranormal stories, researching senses that animals have, but not human can help us to create characters that are more realistically fantastic. (Check out the first Wikipedia article for information on this.) Writing fully human characters with well developed senses (even when…or maybe especially when they are unaware of it) can lead to more interesting characters as well as a more viscerally impacted reader.
In short, writing with an awareness of all of our senses gives us an edge when deepening our characters and fleshing out a scene. One I hope each one of you will experience going forward in your writing.
1. Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sense
2. Dictionary.Com: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/sense
3. Today I Found Out: http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2010/07/humans-have-a-lot-more-than-five-senses/
4. University of Washington: http://faculty.washington.edu/smcohen/433/arintro.htm
5. Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equilibrioception
6. Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thermoception
7. Discovery Fit & Health: http://health.howstuffworks.com/mental-health/human-nature/perception/question242.htm
8. Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sense_of_time
Lucy will be giving away a copy of her mass market paperback, DEAL WITH THIS, to one lucky commenter today!
What senses do you use the most in your writing? What do you find the hardest about writing emotional scenes?
Join us on Friday when PAIGE TYLER and her husband PAUL discuss Paul’s role in Paige’s writing process.
With more than 6 million copies of her books in print, USA Today bestseller Lucy Monroe has published more than 50 books and had her stories translated for sale in dozens of countries. While she writes several subgenres of romance (paranormal, historical, single title and short contemporary) for multiple publishers, all of her books are sexy, emotional and show her belief that love will conquer all. She’s a passionate devotee of romance and shares her love for the genre with her readers through her books and a policy of open communication.
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