Writers must think about description. A lot.
We're told to paint in words, and to use vivid prose. But there's one piece of description-writing advice we hear most: Five Senses.
What many writing instructors really mean by this is to drop the visual emphasis and dip into sound, smell, taste and touch. Mostly, we're diligent about it. On paper every meal becomes a sensual, olfactory, mouth watering experience, or the opposite: even hot Turkish coffee cannot perk our wilted heroines.
Turns out this old-school advice needs a reboot and this is great news for your writing. There may be as many as seven or twenty-one human senses. There are whole worlds of senses to integrate into our descriptions, and no reason to recycle the same old five page after page.
What about incorporating equilibrioception (our sense of balance) into a character? Magnetoception anyone? This is the ability to detect magnetic fields, which is truly handy when you're trying to get somewhere. There are a myriad of ways these senses can be applied to fantasy, sci-fi, magical, horror or realism.
Is your character oblivious to time? The ability to perceive long vs. short periods of time passing may come from two different parts of our brain, but either way, it's a great sense to manipulate in your writing. Who doesn't have it? What are the stakes? One class participant based a story around it. It was about a couple who longed to move to Mexico because they couldn't fit into their time-conscious American society. Ouch! That brings me to pain receptors that are entirely separate from our overall sense of touch. How about a character with a very high or very low pain tolerance?
Proprioception is yet another sense you may not have heard of. It's the ability to distinguish your body from the rest of the world and move it (i.e., we can scratch our feet without looking because we know where they are). What about a character that lacks proprioception? She can't scratch her back without help. She can't find it.
So, should we ditch the five senses? No. But do add to your writer's toolkit when it comes to description. Even the ones we know can sport a new look. Take smell. Many of us learned humans have a weak olfactory system (compared to dogs or elephants, for example). That's a myth. We can sniff over one trillion scents.
Say goodbye to "my character can only pick up on overpowering smells like coffee and baked bread" and explore this sense without worrying that it's unrealistic or reserved for super powers.
As for taste, sweet, sour, salty and bitter are so yesterday. We have savory (cheese, meat) and maybe even fat and calcium. Scientists are split on that, but we're not. Go ahead. Make your heroine bite into that sandwich and be disgusted or charmed by the fatty sharp calcium taste. It will make your story that much more fresh and delicious to read.
Want to make your story come alive for the reader? Join Gila's latest WOW! Women on Writing class: Writing Fiction: Setting and Description, a four week course starting on Monday, January 8, 2018.
Early registration is recommended!
Early registration is recommended!
***No Way Home is forthcoming from Simon Pulse, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. Her first novel, King of the Class was released by NON Publishing (Vancouver, 2013). Her short stories have appeared in dozens of literary magazines in the US, Canada, Australia, Israel, and Hong Kong. Her collection, White Zion, is a finalist for the Doris Bakwin Award (Carolina Wren Press), and her work has been short-listed for WordSmitten’s TenTen Fiction Contest, the Walrus Literary Award, the Eric Hoffer Best New Writing Award, and the Ha’aretz Short Fiction Award. Her short stories have appeared in dozens of literary magazines including Fiction Magazine, Akashic Books, Many Mountains Moving, The Saranac Review, Jewish Fiction, Pilot Pocket Books, The Dalhousie Review and Noir Nation. Please visit: www.gilagreenwrites.com