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Friday, July 23, 2010

Smells Like A Novel ~ Writing With the Five Senses


Several months ago, I read an interview with an author I can’t remember (great intro, right?...keep a’reading, the point is coming up)

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 onto 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.

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 smells like dirty shinguards and stale pee”).

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.

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  1. Hi Jess. I keep seeing your comments on all the blogs I follow so I thought I would visit yours and become your newest follower.

    Nice to meet ya!

  2. Thanks Matthew~ good to have you here! Best of luck with whatever you're working on.