A new year means new chances for us to create the stories we want to write, read, and share. Stories should make the reader feel and a good way to accomplish this is using the five basic senses, and then some.
The basic five senses are taste, sight, touch, smell, and hearing.
Let’s add a few more ‘senses’ to the list: Vision, Imagination, Plot, Movement, Emotion.
These added senses are created when a writer uses the first five as building blocks and configure them to such a degree, that they transcend the reader to a new experience level.
VIP – ME! Check it out and see if you agree.
Vision, more than just the sense of sight, but a total new experience that expands a reader’s mind. The reader is moved to feel emotions by the scene set before them and is challenged to think. VISION / taste, sight, touch, smell, and hearing combinations:
When a scene is near the seashore we want to taste the sea water upon our drying lips, know that the waves are tossing the boats about, feel our stomachs churning and the wind blowing against our skin until we have goosebumps, smell the fish and seaweed, and hear the gulls squawking, blocking out every other around us. Vision refers to the entire experience that we can immerse the reader into . . . the reader will ask questions in order to learn more about the author’s vision.
Imagination, is needed when we introduce new places and situations to experience for the first time. A good story draws the reader into a room or a planet, but no matter the setting it will look fresh and is a place where the reader will be want to discover more. IMAGINATION / taste, sight, touch, smell, and hearing combinations:
Good stories have vivid settings and take the reader away from their daily lives into a realm so wonderful that they have to keep reading. When a scene is placed on a futuristic planet a reader will experience the taste of new foods that may be tough or squishy, the sky may have different colors and odd clouds, hills explored may have odd formed trees and rocks might feel soft instead of hard, the air is sulfuric or smells rancid because of the different black foliage with spiked rods instead of leaves, the wildlife may have eerie mating calls that fill the night with moaning sounds . . . the reader will be hooked into this new place, and open to experience the ideas you have to show them.
Plot, is a map quest and the picking up of the clues crafted by the writer—the reader can actually catch the dropped comments, see the stained rug, taste the tainted food or wine. PLOT / taste, sight, touch, smell, and hearing combinations:
Scenes build, one upon another, and the plotting is dribbled in between them, leading a reader to a new experience and surprise. A good story will let a character taste the tainted wine and spill it to avoid any subsequent unpleasantness—the reader will sense relief that the character isn’t dead (yet). Relevant objects are pieces that fit together in the end, allowing the reader to follow the trail while letting them touch the ornate ivory handle of the knife or feel the engraved markings of an antique jewel, objects that will be tied into a symbolic meaning when ‘The End’ is finally written. A good story allows cakes to burn and fill the house with thick smoke and allow the reader to smell the charred pan. Scenes can consist of boisterous crowds and be just as suspenseful when all noise suddenly stops! . . . A good story should always add a different twist to an old plot sequence to prevent boredom.
Movement, let the story roam and breath to discover more about the characters, and also reveal truths to the reader about themselves. It’s nothing a writer needs to do intentional, the smart reader will pick up the vibe and relate things to their own experiences. Allow achievement of goals and the ability to learn something new. MOVEMENT / taste, sight, touch, smell, and hearing combinations:
A story with movement will have the characters eating at the corner greasy spoon or running over hills to the next scene, they’ll see road signs and other people bustling about boarding trains and planes, often characters touch each other with hugs and kisses and a reader can relate to the scene through their previous love experiences. As characters flee a crowded market they may smell the fresh-baked bread from the open window of a bakery they just passed (who can’t relate to that smell), and they might hear whistles blowing, perhaps the police chasing the antagonist or the misunderstood protagonist . . . the reader will remain active mentally and kept on their toes with the momentum of the story scenes.
Emotion, allows the reader to be involved in the character’s lives and problems and swept away from their own daily life. Total reader investment is a good mark for any story and is usually an indication of a great suspense story. EMOTION / taste, sight, touch, smell, and hearing combinations:
A scene that takes the first five senses and transforms a reader into emotional investment is true success. Suppose the setting is the deep woods. A character could be all alone eating a leftover cheese sandwich with dry bread and tangy mustard spread all over, maybe upset because their significant other dumped them in the middle of nowhere. Okay, now we have an experience most of us can relate to and we’re there with them, angry with the person who just dumped them. Then a shadow crosses the path and now everything else is forgotten. Of course the lunch is dropped to the ground that’s covered in dried pine needles and dark green ivy wrapping around the towering trees with rough dark bark. They’re spruce trees that fill the air with a deep pine scent, comforting the character until he/she smells smoke. Then the crackle of a fire draws near, raging closer at tremendous speed. All the five senses have been deployed but the emotions have ramped up from the every day to urgency . . . a great story will move a reader to feel something, not only a little, but will get them to want to do something, vicariously through the characters.
This investment compels the reader to keep turning the page, to look for the resolution. They can empathize with or at least understand a character.
Progress of my next novel, IN THE WOODS, is going well. I’m going back to my writing boards and pulling together the experiences that my characters’ extra senses will use in my next story. I like the setting—the North East Kingdom of Vermont. It’s a suspense thriller with some supernatural elements added. I’m very excited about my new characters and hope they keep revealing themselves to me.
Great post, Elisabeth. I love it when a writer engages all of my senses and plants me inside the story. THAT’S why I read–to be transported.
Happy New Year!
Thank you Daphne. I think we learn how to do this from our reading and also writing more stories. Your books are great examples of keeping the characters moving and holding the reader in suspense. I like your books very much, and totally get invested as I read them – keep writing and have a great weekend DV.