May 29, 2010

Write with all the senses

Unless something is written from an omnipresent point of view, one way or another we are experiencing the story through the eyes of a character (or characters if we're dealing with a novel that changes POV between chapters) and somehow we need to forge a connection with them in order to empathise and retain interest in what is happening. What makes writing an effective medium where television and radio fails is that literature can make you experience everything with all the senses. It's not just about seeing and hearing, while these are our primary senses the others shouldn't be neglected too.

Out in real life though we also feel, taste and smell and these can also effect our emotions, define what we feel and trigger old memories. Until all the senses can be provoked I think there will always be a wall between the reader/viewer/listener; TV never manages to feel real.

But a good book or story can hit my emotional centre for precisely this lack of sensory limitation. Someone who manages to not only engage imagery inside my head and what things sound like but also tells me what the character tastes, the smell of a place or a person and the physical sensations they go through be it internal body responses or external stimuli really gives the reader a full-on pull into that world and brings it to life. No longer is it just letters on a page but it becomes a whole reality.

I always try to think beyond what we hear and see in the stories I write. It's not enough to say "he was frightened" when you could show this by the clenched muscles in his stomach, the sweat on the base of his neck, the persistent shaking of his hands. Telling emotions fail to take effect, saying "I felt considerable emotion" is probably the least emotional thing you could write. What are the physical sensations of feelings and experiences? What makes something so real and so sensual? Smell, taste and touch play a large roll in turning writing into something that is technicolor as opposed to black and white. We can see and watch from the outside with the most obvious senses but something will be missing without the others.

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