As a parent of a sensory sensitive child, to say we have tremendous challenges on a daily basis is an understatement. But, as odd as it may sound, Jaimie has taught me a great deal about the art of sensory detail. Allow me to explain.
We’re fortunate because Jaimie has excellent verbal skills so when we see the signs of a fit, we bring her down by asking her to describe what she’s feeling (hearing, smelling, etc.) so that we know what we can try to counteract the height of her reaction.
To Jaimie, a smell isn’t just “stinky,” it “crawls around in my nose like a spider—tickling and itching—until my tummy tries to come out of my mouth.” A taste she doesn’t like isn’t just “bad,” to her, the taste “sticks on my tongue like bugs on fly paper and I want to scrape it off with a knife!” And a light touch on her skin—which drives her crazy—feels like “thousands of creepy caterpillars crawling all over me and I can’t get them off no matter how hard I try.”
Can’t you just smell, taste and feel what Jaimie’s describing? That’s the art of sensory detail. It’s the ability to draw your reader into your scene by describing the character’s environment. But, of course, you have to be able to give enough description without going overboard and stay within your character’s vantage point. Believe me, it’s not as easy as it sounds.
For me, I always do two things when drawing my readers into my character’s world: (1) I think of how Jaimie would feel in the situation I’m attempting to describe and “feel” things as sensitively as she would; and (2) I follow the advice of my Novel Writing instructor: “See things the way a blind person would. They need to pay close attention to everything around them in order to ‘see’ things.”
Brilliant! So the next time you come to a scene requiring vivid details, do this: close your eyes and absorb yourself in the scene. For example, suppose your character is at the beach. Can you hear the “thunderous roar of the waves as they crash into the shore?” Can you feel the “salty mist settle on your face?” What else is there? What can you smell? Taste? See? How would you set these up so we can sense them too?
Technically, we’re supposed to tantalize all the senses with our writing. Just remember, even when we don’t pay attention to it, every sense is stimulated in everything we do. The next time you’re out somewhere, pay closer attention to what's around you—like a blind person or Jaimie. “See” things the way they do and you’ll be writing those sensory-rich scenes like a pro.
I’d love to hear your favorite sensory descriptions. How do you create such scenes? Enlighten us!