February Feature Article
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A New Sensation: Keys to Sensual Writing
by Julie Anne Parks                (CONTINUED from previous page)

Let's examine our senses and explore how to use them in prose:

Sight: This form of description is easiest to write, but beware of slipping into visual cliches: the tall woman, the ranch-style house, the bald man.  A writer must see differently, more acutely than his reader.  For example, you could say, "The room was as black as night," but that's a cliche. Instead, write: "The room seemed as black as the inside of a grave."  That description is sinister, it's dark, and it fits the mood of a Gothic tale. For a western, a better choice might be: "The room was as black as a rotten tooth on a wild boar."

Sound: While we take for granted common, background noises that never reach the ears of the hearing impaired, it's those commonplace sounds that set up scenes.  Again, when it comes to describing noise, watch out for clichés and remember to show, not tell.  Consider the difference between: "She filed her nails" and "The emery board rasped across her nails like a knife buttering toast."

Smell: Animals experience via smell more than any other sense.  While our sense of smell is important, we seldom think about it.  Consider the many childhood memories that involve smell.  Remember the smell of new crayons? Wet mittens?

Touch: This is the most neglected sense in writing.  Yet, can you imagine writing a love scene without invoking the sense of touch?  Do linen sheets feel the same as silk or satin sheets?  Describing texture isn't hard: "The child's cheek was as soft as a fairy's kiss."  "When she closed the drapes against the sun, they were as hot on her fingers as a just-ironed shirt."  Yet we often limit our description of texture to words like "smooth," "rough," or "leathery."

Think about texture the next time you describe a room.  If a living room consists of wood-paneled walls, hardwood floors, and windows covered with wood shutters, it appears boring and one-dimensional.  Add chintz drapes to those windows, a marble fireplace, and potted plants--some with shiny, polished leaves, some with feathery flowers--Berber carpeting and an overstuffed sofa, and you've described a room worthy of Better Homes & Gardens.  Voices and music will absorb into the fabric so they don't echo like footsteps in an empty house.  The many textures described hint of grace and charm.  You've gone from one-dimensional to warm and inviting.

Taste:  Which has more impact: "She bit into a juicy strawberry" or, "She bit into the strawberry and her mouth filled with summer?"

We most of us have five senses through which we perceive our world.  As writers, we need to employ our senses--all five of them--if we're going to write rich, rewarding stories for our readers.  Writing rich takes perception and imagination. So use your imagination.   

Julie Anne Parks is the author of Storytellers. She's published many short stories in both the mainstream and genre presses, and won the 1999 Larry E. Watkins Memorial Fiction Award for her short story "Requiem."  She's also a contributing editor for Suite101.com, where she writes a weekly regional humor column.