Monday, November 11, 2013


There are five basic sensations that most humans experience during the course of every day. These are: sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. And, much as all the colors that we are able to see come from the three primary colors, all our experiences as sentient beings stem from these sensations. It becomes therefore, the cause of the writer to evoke all of the senses in their works in order to bring as much of the tangible world to their fictional one.

Each if these five are essential to effective writing. These basic senses are the framework for the reader's everyday life. Awareness of these impulses is both conscious and sub-conscious in us. Complex interactions between the sensory organs allow us to breathe, walk, avoid hazards and - quite frankly -  to exist. This, then, is the framework that the reader brings to your story. Our real world senses provide the structure around which the author will build the attachment to his characters and to his story.  In short, the author must provide tangible anchor point in his/her prose for the reader to relate to their own experiences.

What brought me to this subject is that I habitually lack one of these sensory descriptions in my own prose. You see, I suffer from allergies. These are not your typical seasonal "I'm allergic to marigolds" type of allergies that afflict me. Rather, I have the "All year round - I should probably be living in a bubble" variety. And since living in a bubble is not the way I wish to live my life, I take industrial strength "Blitz the literal living snot out of your nose" medicine to stave off the snots. A side effect of this nuclear detonated pill is that I cannot smell much of anything anymore. Extremely potent smells such as burning tires or skunk spray still make their presence known, but the more subtle fragrances generally elude me. Thus, I rarely include smells in my prose. This has been remarked in our group on more than one occasion.

To me, this omission meant little as I have grown used to living my life without that sensory input. Yet, as I ruminated over the comments from one or other of my submissions, I realized that this is not so for the rest of the world. If it was obvious enough for the members of our group to mention it, then it would be a disconnect for others as well. One less anchor for the reader to build from as they read my work. As I thought more on it, I realized that others might have different failings of the senses (e.g. - poor eyesight or hearing) that would cause difficulties for them.

So what to do? In my case, I have taken to highlighting how others describe certain smells to use as framework. I take varied descriptions of something (say, pine trees in snow) and mold them to my on phrasing. This works to a point, but not always. Sometimes I have to punt and just use my imagination. Of course, I wasn't always so scent deprived. I do remember certain smells from my kinder days and that helps fill the gaps, as it were.

And so, I have taken to consciously inserting scent descriptions into my work. At the moment, it's feels a bit like teaching Big Foot to be a ballerina, but one must start somewhere.


  1. I love this picture.

  2. Very Interesting. I had no idea about this with regards to you. Does this mean I can now eat anything around you I want?

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