One of the best ways to bring a scene to life is to employ the six senses. And yes, there are six! All too often, authors seem to focus on the two most common of these - sight and sound. Perhaps this happens because most of us tend to rely on our eyes and ears most in our own lives. But what about taste, touch, smell - and instinct? [...] The use of sense powerfully ties readers to your characters, because it is what allows them to empathize - to "remember" those same experiences through the perspective of your character.Laura DeVries has written that she
heard a best-selling author admit she doesn’t consider a scene complete until she’s included at least a mention of all five senses. She has gone so far as to write the words see, touch, hear, taste and smell above her computer screen. I know another writer who found herself stuck on a particular scene until she decided to try to write it with her eyes closed. The technique worked. By closing off the most over-used and familiar sense - sight - she had opened her imagination to the other four. What she learned was that by restricting herself to the visual representation, she had been missing the other sensual aspects important to that scene. The richness those other sensations added to her writing astonished and delighted her.Evidently many romance writers make a particular effort to engage their readers' senses. But how do readers respond?
Jessica's got a very interesting post up about "escape" in the context of the romance genre in which she describes the reading process:
reading a novel requires the exercise of imagination. Your mind has to take authors’ descriptions of smells and tastes and places and people, and work them up into something real. Together, readers and writers create a unique sensory journey with every book.Given that Tumperkin, writing about Sherry Thomas's Delicious, said that
I know that I've read food descriptions and references galore in other novels - but unless it's woven into the emotional heart of the story, I don't think it makes more than a passing impact on me.it seems that perhaps some readers respond more strongly and more frequently to descriptions involving the senses than others do. Some of us may not respond to them much at all. It wasn't until I got to secondary school that I realised that for some people the phrase "the mind's eye" actually had some meaning, and was a good way of describing the way in which they could visualise images which were not directly in front of them. Some people can hear music playing in their heads, even when there's no external source of music to listen to. Yet others can recreate the tastes of food they've sampled, long after the meal has been digested. I haven't yet met anyone who can imagine smells, but perhaps, given what she's written, Jessica can.
I don't escape, via books, into a world of colour, sights, smells, sounds or tastes. I wonder how this shapes my reading experiences. I'm sure it must do, at least to some extent. How do you feel (and see, smell, etc) about the reading process?
Edited to add: At her own blog Jessica's written about the sense of smell in particular and she has some advice for romance authors:
When I started reading romance, I used to be very jarred by the keen senses of smell our heroes and heroines possess. Apparently, every lover has a bouquet, and our h/hs are always — always – connoisseurs. [...] Some smells are overused (sandalwood, I’m smelling at you), and some are just lazy (”man”, “woman”. I’m waiting for the truly liberated romance h/h who thinks, “Hmmm. Smells like person!” Or even more inclusively, “Smells like living organic matter!”).
But here’s where I draw the line: the trend of h/h’s being able to smell psychic states. I don’t care how in love or turned on you are. You can not smell states of mind.