Using our Senses in Writing

Life is a sensory experience and we deepen our writing by using all five senses. I try hard to weave them into my stories. 

Seeing. This is an obvious one. Describing landscapes, faces, clothes, etc. is an essential part of setting and character building. The trick here is to see the detail and to focus on what matters to the story. In Tainted Amber the setting is East Prussia and I needed to travel over to that part of the world so I could see the Baltic, the chestnut and linden trees and, of course, the ubiquitous amber. 

. This is a most intimate and private sense. Very subjective and very powerful. Through food, a writer has an opportunity to be culturally specific and also to use food as metaphor. Taste can also be used to show character or illness. All for the book, I got to taste-test some Jägermeister Schnapps and Königsberger Klopse

Smelling. Smell evokes memory. Who hasn’t experienced the déjà vu of smell? Whether it’s a specific soap, the scent of a real Christmas tree, or a baby’s hair . . . we often have a visceral reaction to smell. For Tainted Amber it was smell of salt spray off the Baltic and the sweet smell of September hay that stayed with me. In my current WIP it's the smell of Kölnisches Wasser that sends me deeper into the story. 

Touching. Again, this is a private sensation. Touch works well in showing relationships. It’s underused and has the ability to lessen distance with the reader. It’s a way to show love and reveal character. A tight handshake. A stiff hug. Touch can show also temperature. In Tainted Amber Katya's deepening relationship with David is shown using only the slightest touch of a hand.

Hearing. This is a shared sensation. You can hear sound with others. Whether it’s crashing waves, the crunch of boots on snow, a roaring motorcycle or the keys of a piano, using sound adds a dimension to writing that a film or audio production takes for granted. Accessing story through sound has been an important part of my writing journey.  Sound is also a way to build tension and fear as any horror film will quickly affirm. In Tainted Amber I let the roaring sea, the power of a motorcycle and the insidious music of the Horst Wessel Lied add a sense of danger to the setting. 

All five of our senses have the ability to ignite emotion and it’s emotion that connects a reader to the characters and makes them come alive. 

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