Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Sensing Your Way Through Your WIP

One of my favorite sounds is that of a gentle rain on a tin roof. It's comforting. Soothing. Relaxing. And how many women have you heard ooh and ah over the smell of a tiny baby. Mountains awe me. Their majesty, each nook and cranny carved by the hand of God. The softness of a rose petal or the gift of a gentle breeze across your skin on a hot summer's day. Don't even get me started on the ecstasy of a Dove Dark Chocolate Promise slowly melting in my mouth, its flavor wiping my cares away.

Our senses are part of who we are, and our reactions to the elements around us are what make us unique. The same is true for our characters. Everything our characters are exposed to should evoke some emotion or reaction.

For example, a person visits someone's house for the first time. As soon as they walk in, they're carried away by the aroma of something sweet and slightly spicy. The smell reminds him/her of the oatmeal raisin cookies their mother used to make for them when they were a child. Most likely, this person is going to feel comfortable and at ease right away. On the other hand, you could have someone who's not-so-nice grandmother used to force her homemade pumpkin-prune muffins, the ones that were drier than the Sahara, down their throat and you're going to get a totally different reaction.

In Colleen Coble's Fire Dancer, the heroine watched her parents die in a barn fire. As an adult, she's a smoke jumper. The smell of smoke has a two-fold effect on Tess, that of sadness, yet it gets her adrenaline pumping like nothing else.

Our senses can bring us pleasure. They can trigger memories, both good and bad. In our writing, this allows us to reveal more about our characters, allows our readers to know our characters on a more personal level. The person who may have been locked in a closet as child is going to have a much stronger reaction to the smell of mothballs than just the offensive odor.

It's all part of the layering. To me, getting the bones of a story down is the hard part. But the layers are what enrich your story and make it come alive.

Do you find adding emotion through your character's senses comes easy to you? Do you reach beyond sight and sound? How do you make your characters leap off the page?


  1. I think that the more we know our characters the more the senses will come across to the reader. I"m learning the hard way, but I'm learning.
    Know your characters. (It's truly hard for someone like me to sit down and get to really know these people first--I'm such a panster).
    And the more you know them the more layers will come through also.

  2. I'm learning that layering:-) Excellent post, Mindy!

  3. I agree that this is a hard lesson to learn and I am trying to learn it now. There is more prep work that goes into a novel than most would think.

    I would love to think that my characters leap off the page, but right now I think they still need a lot of exercise before they're at that point.

    I can comment that the books I've read in the past, the ones that stick with me, must have that strong character element for me to even remember the storyline or love it.