BUT, I remember what she had to say about writing descriptions, which is something I’ve struggled with over the years, either overdoing it with too many adjectives/flowery language or writing too sparsely to place the reader into the scene—i.e., “It was Tuesday. It was hot.”
I happen to love food and cooking, so I enjoy reading scenes that reside around a dinner table or café. I find myself slightly disappointed when a specific food is mentioned, but not described. I want to hear the crunch of the lettuce and red onion slices in a salad, feel the creamy mashed potatoes pressed against the roof of my mouth, smell the delicious aroma of garlic, marinara, and basil melding with mozzarella and parmesan, and see the perfect symmetry of a well-laid raspberry tart.
I’m gonna stop with the food angle because it’s making me hungry (and don’t worry—I would never serve mashed potatoes with lasagna). The point is (YAY—here it is!), you can do the five senses thing in ANY scenario in your novel and leave your reader with a more satiable read.
Was your main character caught in a random summer thunderstorm? If so, describe the smell of fresh water on hot concrete. And what does it taste like when a drop hits his face and drips on his lips and tongue?
Are a bunch of kids sitting in the school classroom during your scene? Maybe it smells like adolescent B.O. and the teacher’s reeking cologne-of-the-week.
What does it sound like when your character is at a girlfriend’s house, waiting for her parents to confront him about staying out late with their daughter? Perhaps there’s a low hum from the ceiling fan and the sound of Jeopardy is in the background. Is the couch stained and stiff in spots from old spills?
These things all help to set your reader firmly into the your story; they get the reader involved (“Hey—that’s totally what rain smells like!” or “Oh my God, that reminds me of the school locker room that smelled like dirty shinguards and stale pee!”). There's such a thing as overdoing it, so use a little restraint and make sure you don't go on for pages about the food on the table instead of the conversation or the suspicious dude at the next table who wants to kill your protagonist (Mary Kole did a great post HERE on the topic of focus and description issues).
So without further ado, I give you… The Traditional Five Senses (a classification attributed to Aristotle)-
Take a look at these, check your manuscripts for scenes that can take a little plumping, and have at it. Even if the taste of rubber in your eraser-chewing protagonist’s mouth doesn’t make the final cut, thinking about this stuff helps put you, the author, in the scene as well. Which is exactly where you should be...unless you’re in the kitchen making lasagna and mashed potatoes.
*There's a list of related links on the top right of this blog*
**By the way, my lovely blogging friend Beth (Of Muses and Meringues) has fantastic posts about her global travels, the people and places she’s seen, and FOOD.
The woman is an incredible baker and loves it so much that she gave up baking for Lent~ an enormous sacrifice in her case. Her post on Sunday was regarding food in literature (click HERE) and that's why I reposted one of my older musings that touched on same topic (or at least mentioned food descriptions). My post today was originally written last autumn.**