Friday, December 18, 2009

Are you using ALL your senses?

I remember a passage in Elizabeth Lyon's Manuscript Makeover which said that writers often only focus on the sense of sight in their first drafts, and that all the other senses have to be worked into subsequent drafts. Isn't that odd? I mean, that sure describes the first draft of my novel. Only now am I thinking about how a place smells and sounds. Why is that? And why is it that the problem is so common that Ms. Lyon could make such a generalized statement with confidence?

I don't have the answers to these
questions, but I find it comforting to know that I'm not alone in my sensory short-sightedness. So now I'd like to do a little exercise with you - one that you can do at home, or wherever you might be spending the holidays. At the moment, I happen to be in a fantastic place for sensory overload - Australia. I've never been to a subtropical continent before, so this is all very new to me. We touched down in Sydney yesterday morning (which is technically tomorrow for all of you in the States ... I think ... ? :-]-). I took a long walk through the area where we're staying (Bronte) and here was my sensory response (an abridged version, that is, because I could go on and on ...)

SIGHT - I was thrilled by the sight of rainbow-colored "lorrikeets" flying out of stu
bby, waxy-leaved trees so they could perch on low, red-tiled rooftops.

SOUND - I found myself startled every time I heard what sounded like a toddler babbling, followed by a monkey shrieking, only to realize I was listening to bird calls.

SMELL - I couldn't get away from the fragrant odor of eucalyptus oil mixed with a hint of sea brine, and I didn't want to!

TOUCH - It started to drizzle on my way home, and I felt as if I was being followed by a personal assistant continually spraying me with a fine lukewarm mist.

TASTE - When I got home, I opened a bottle of Australian Cab-Merlot and swished the fruity, woody liquid around in my mouth before swallowing.

I'm going to try and do a new five senses exercise every day I'm here (but I promise not to bore you with any more of them!)

FIGURING IT OUT AS I GO: Do you have trouble bringing all 5 senses to the forefront of your writing? Maybe this is because you, like me, don't always make the time to be aware of all that you're sensing in your own life. Try this little exercise wherever you are and see if it sharpens your writing ... I'd love to read YOUR sensory experiences!


  1. What a great idea! This is an area in which I'm lacking in my ms. I know that I have a few scenes describing smells, but that's it. I'll have to fix that during edits. Enjoy your trip!

  2. Out of teaching writing courses, I actually developed a booklet called "Sensory Perceptions" that contains exercises for each sense, and one pulling them all together.

    I love to read sensual and sensory writing, so I work hard to make sure that's an important element of my own work.

  3. Thanks Melissa! And Devon, is your booklet available online? It sounds like a fantastic aid for aspiring writers.

  4. Great post! It's difficult to work all that in, isn't it? Thanks, I needed the practice.