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THE MAKING OF SENSE (1 Viewer)

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luckyscars

WF Veterans
Obviously a lot of writing is sensory. We talk about how things look/smell/touch/taste/sound constantly...

Are there any major advantages/disadvantages or general differences to using each? It seems like a lot of time we pick them kind of randomly based on context and in quite obvious ways -- a sex scene might use a look of 'feel', a scene involving food would naturally use 'taste', dialogue would use a lot of 'sounds like'. Smell? We tend to use smell only in situations where it would really be unavoidable -- a scene set in an abattoir or perfume store or something 'stinky'. You don't get so much references to smell in a scene that takes place in some ordinary room. It's a little odd to me how rarely people use breath and body odor in character descriptions.

Other than those, seeing seems the go-to. I actually think it's overused. It makes sense why it's overused, it's the easiest way to explain a setting or moment. But still, it's used so often and I wonder if sometimes writers miss out by relying so heavily on explaining how things 'look' that they forget that a fight scene, for instance, may not consist very heavily in the visual in reality. When you're in hand to hand combat with somebody you're not really looking at things, you're reacting based on various senses and the most eloquent way to make the writing stand out may be to incorporate other senses. I have not heard the 'feel of armor' mentioned too often, though.

What are your thoughts on the way senses are used in writing? Are there any that tend to be harder or easier to write (well)?
 

EternalGreen

Senior Member
Some martial arts require almost no seeing ability. If people are training their BJJ, an outsider will see white, black and blue gis flashing, rolling, shining pools of sweat. They will hear the cotton snap, palms thump on the mat to break falls, grunts and good-sported laughs. Someone reties their belt.

This much less important than what the trainees/coaches feel: their fingers, often wrapped in tape, grow weak around a partner's lapel. They would feel shins against fat bellies and forearms across their necks. Eyes turn pink from chokes; phlegmy tracheas constrict.

I could go on and on. A story about BJJ wouldn't use the first perspective.

You are right, the writer tends to emulate the stage or the cinema. People seem to appreciate (at least somewhat) my sensory writing. It's something only prose and poetry can really pull off. Now I almost laugh when a film tries to show the viewer it "feels" cold by turning the screen blue or gives a close-up of pancakes to show the "smell." Ha ha ha.

It's important to not get carried away with sensory details, though. Tolkien makes a point in the Hobbit in a scene where one character won't stop describing a feast to the rest of the hungry characters and they all want him to shut the fuck up.
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
I try to use them. They are all part of the imagery we have at our fingertips.



The warmth of the sun felt soothing on her back.
Why are the crows arguing above?
The smell of the greasy hotdog she was about to consume was intoxicating.
Every sensory taste bud was satisfied when she finally bit into it.
When a piece of the bun fell to the ground, she could see what all the fuss was about.
 

Llyralen

Senior Member
Some martial arts require almost no seeing ability. If people are training their BJJ, an outsider will see white, black and blue gis flashing, rolling, shining pools of sweat. They will hear the cotton snap, palms thump on the mat to break falls, grunts and good-sported laughs. Someone reties their belt.

This much less important than what the trainees/coaches feel: their fingers, often wrapped in tape, grow weak around a partner's lapel. They would feel shins against fat bellies and forearms across their necks. Eyes turn pink from chokes; phlegmy tracheas constrict.

.

It was totally fun to read that. It demonstrated the point.... it's like I want more? And I don't like watching fights, but this gets me right into the mix.
 

Llyralen

Senior Member
Someone I knew online once whose writing I very much admired told me that he couldn't handle visual descriptions. He said it was just "too much". He liked to read and write with mostly concept words... as much as he could. I find that interesting. I like concepts but I really enjoy good sensory writing... .there's an earthiness to it that is just yummy.

I try to write some visual descriptions. I want my readers to put themselves into the shoes of my characters and see through their eyes, but this thread is a good encouragement to make sure to incorporate more of the senses. I feel a bit excited/butterfly-nervous to try. Eek! Heehee. But I don't know what to try yet.

A friend of mine from high school who spent some years in Chili gave me a book of Pablo Naruda poems when he got back and told me that Spanish is a much more visual language than English. With English we do have a lot of concept words and lego-parts words. That's good too! But I thought his observation was interesting.
 

MistWolf

Senior Member
There are always five senses in every scene. Whether or not they're used is up to the author.

Sex- The taste of her kiss, her skin, her intimate places. The smell of her hair, her perfume, her desire. The feel of her skin, her lips, her touch, her heat. The sound of her movements, her whispers, her heart, her breath. The sight of light and shadow playing on her curves, her grace, her come hither eyes

Food- The smell of herbs and spices and smoke. The feel of a hamburger lifted to your lips. The sound of biting into a crisp apple. The sight of the banquet laid out on the tables and benches. The taste of the perfect rootbeer float.

In my reading experience, smell is far from being neglected. Many times have I read about bad breath and body odor when people are packed in a tight space or denied daily bathing.

The sense humans rely on the most is sight. It's natural the primary descriptor is visual. Sight may be limited in a close fight, but that fact is important information because we're so dependent on visual input. If dogs wrote stories they'd expect smell to be the primary descriptor. (Actually, dogs write their stories by scent.)

Writing in the other senses adds depth, but like any other writing skill, it takes practice.
 

Olly Buckle

Mentor
Patron
Individuals tend to have a preferred system, that gives you a good way of developing characters, and they tend to interact better, a visual with an audial is not the same as a visual with a kinesthetic. eg She sees things, he has feelings about them, versus she sees things and he talks about them.

I am not saying anyone is exclusively stuck in one system, but most have a preferred one, you occasionally get someone who switches between the three. It can be quite fun working out which you are. Do you feel that could be so, see what I mean, or are you hearing me?
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
Individuals tend to have a preferred system, that gives you a good way of developing characters, and they tend to interact better, a visual with an audial is not the same as a visual with a kinesthetic. eg She sees things, he has feelings about them, versus she sees things and he talks about them.

I am not saying anyone is exclusively stuck in one system, but most have a preferred one, you occasionally get someone who switches between the three. It can be quite fun working out which you are. Do you feel that could be so, see what I mean, or are you hearing me?

I'm not sure I understand what you mean. What are the three?
 

Olly Buckle

Mentor
Patron
Visual, audial and kinesthetic.
For example if someone is asked to remember their mother a mainly visual person will make an image of her, then, possibly, as they see her mouth move they will hear her speak, a kinesthetic might smell her perfume as they hugged her, then hear her voice in their ear and draw back and see her, an audial would go for the sound of the voice first and from that access the other memories. We all use all of them, but we will each have a preferred system that we go to first. People tend to use the words that go with that system as well, "I see what you mean", "I am hearing you", "I feel I get that".

Good salesmen recognise it and know that if they use the same sort of predicates back to the customer they will be much more 'in tune ' with them, or they will 'get it in focus' or 'get a grasp of it'.
 
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