Friday, April 21, 2006
Someone on Miss Snark's blog (side bar) asked for an interpretation of a"flat and uninteresting" comment about their work.
Miss Snark suggested that perhaps it might lack sensory description, particularly smell - a sense, it seems, that is often ignored in novels.
Gabriele provided excellent illustrations in a comment for both smell and sound and Carla posted on the topic with links.
Use of the senses is one of those pieces of writing advice that need to be emphasized again and again.
Most of us are fine with sight and touch, but sound, smell and taste are sometimes relegated or over-looked.
The senses are imperative if one is going to create a sense of reality in the reader's mind, and are particularly important if one is producing an alternate world, whether that world exists as history or in some other universe.
Blanket descriptions - "a dark and stormy night" variant - don't always do, as Gabriele points out, one should fit the introduction of the sense to the character's natural notice.
A character might ignore the stench of a garderobe or a moat - until he's face down in it.
The use and introduction of the senses has to be more than lyric description of the primeval forrest or the urban environment.
A writer can't just outline the normal smells of a 14th century town, dust his hands and say, "there, I've covered that."
A city dweller on a subway may ignore the smell of hydrocarbons and hot pavement because they are familiar, but a stinking man next to them on the subway will cause them to notice and move.
A change in the usual and disregarded night sounds may indicate an intruder.
As an aside, I always chuckle when I see the line "broke the silence." Night can be a noisy place - especially if you adjust your ear downward from macro to micro voices.
A pre-electric fugitive will be alert to the scent of wood smoke on the wind - and know what kind of wood is burning.
We must not forget, secure in our cities, that smell and hearing were survival linked in other places and other times.
They are of particular value and verity in certain kinds of fiction, but enhance all.
So it might be a good idea to go over your WIP with the senses in mind - not as simple value-added description - but as character and action enhancers.
On the other hand,five paragraphs of exquisite detail and analysis are not always necessary to give the general idea.
"I must bathe," he said.
You certainly must, she thought, you reek.
But please, please, don't add some smells and leave out the real ones.
I will forever be annoyed by a battlefield description that spoke of the scent of wild flowers and herbs and left out the stench of guts and feces and blood.
Meant to ask: Do you have a favorite passage engaging the neglected senses?