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Monday Meandering: Vision Is Highly Overrated

Monday, September 18, 2006
I'm nearly blind. My vision is 20/400 and that's in my good eye. Sometimes, very early in the morning, when it's still dark out, I forget. It's my only level playing field. If I'm fumbling around, then everyone else is, too. Until someone turns on the lights and then I'm the only one lost.

But this isn't about my personal experience with optometry. This is about writing.

What would your character do if he/she were blind? Take that one sense away and what
happens? They have to learn to do other things, manuever with their other senses. The ones we too often forget about: Scent, Hearing, Taste and Touch.

I'm sure many of us have read this advice before -- to use all five senses. But I don't think we all heed it as we ought. I once read a snippet of something where the writer crammed all her sense information into one sentence at the beginning of the passage, then proceeded to get on with things. It was as if she said, "Whew! Glad that's out of the way. Now I can write."

Not exactly layered writing and I gleefully pounced on her for it.

New writers love using scent as a touchstone (pardon the mixed metaphor). They liberally spray their heroine with lavender or roses or lemon and then proceed to whack us over the head with how they smell every single time the woman walks into the room. Subtle, it ain't. Then everyone got tired of using the same scent over and over, so it got weird. People went all herbal on their heroines and suddenly they smell like calendula and juniper. Please. Let's not go there. And how do you smell someone from across the room unless they dipped themselves in scent? Ick.

The exception to this might be if one or both characters are extremely scent-sensitive, like a were-wolf or something. They survive by their noses.

Hearing is underrated, I think. JR Ward used it well in Lover Eternal when Rhage listened to Mary's voice to calm his beast, but that's the only book in recent memory that used sound to deepen character. I love sound. Not just the beating of hearts, but the flow of voice. I mean, sound is practically a character of its own in The Little Mermaid, isn't it? The prince fell in love with the mermaid's voice, not with her.

To use sound efficiently, you have to listen, too. What are your favorite sounds? What do they mean? Think abstractly, too. What does autumn sound like? Then use those aural images to deepen your characters and your setting.

Taste. I cook. I don't taste my food while I cook. I know, that's weird and I don't know why I can't do it. It's like if I try it before it's done, I won't be able to appreciate the whole. I have a hard time using taste when I write. It seems so very scene specific to me. It works in love scenes sometimes, but sometimes it just makes me go eeewww. Of course, if you could write one of those 9 1/2 weeks food/sex scenes, that might work out well. You're on your own with this one since I've no useful advice to give.

Touch. Touch seems obvious in love scenes, but it can inform so much more than that. Touch is vital when you turn off vision. When I was a new mom, it was easy for me to get "touched out." To the point where I felt like screaming when dh came home and hugged me. Too many hands on me. Sensory overload.

Now that the kids are getting older, though, I find that I miss it. I touch my family constantly. I fluff my son's hair, which is thick and straight. I put my hand on my daughter's smooth cheek. I run my fingers over dh's arm, through the rough hair, down his fingers.

But touch isn't just about person to person. Anything that has texture can add texture to a scene. Running through the woods is about getting smacked on the shins, about getting scraped by brambles, about resting your hand on the bark of a tree. Step into a stream to cross it and not just is it cold for that moment, but if it gets in your boots, it get heavy and hot and raises blisters. When your hair comes loose, the strands tickle and itch and stick to your skin.

That's all touch and it all makes the scene deeper and richer than just running through woods.

So, next time you're writing a scene and it feels a little sparse, close your eyes to discover what other senses you can employ to make your characters leap off the page and wrap around your reader's heart!

9/18/2006 12:54:00 PM : : Sela Carsen : : 5 Comments


Strange sense of deja vu.

Must be the nicotine withdrawal and the alcohol chucks.
Have you blogged this way before?
I swear that I at one time read about this use of the senses, tactility, to "make your characters leap off the page and wrap around your reader's heart."

And through some parallel universe, I seem to be answering:
Read my blog. It's about the brain itself filtering all those pungent bits of information. The brain, the central organ.
You the writer as brain?

I know. I need to get out more.
But then you genre cats/chicks are into
Frankenstinian things, no?

By Blogger ivan, at 11:00 PM  

I really need to do this.

I think I'm going to do a checklist that I go through for each and every scene.

By Blogger Milady Insanity, at 5:55 AM  

So true.
Sense is like salt or spice.
Should be sprinkled, not dumped.

By Blogger Bernita, at 7:29 AM  

*applauds excellent post*

By Blogger Anna Lucia, at 9:11 AM  

Ivan, I've blogged about voice before, but I don't think I've done the senses. Still, the style of all my Monday Meanderings is very similar, so it probably does sound familiar. Will read your blog later today.

Milady, it's a great tip for adding that missing oomph to a so-so scene.

Bernita, subtlety is the key, as in so many things.

Thanks Anna! Glad you're back home!

By Blogger Sela Carsen, at 9:59 AM  

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