Posts Tagged ‘five senses’

Many writing-related books and blogs I’ve read suggest using sensory elements to make the setting richer and more realistic. The toughest one for me to convey in my writing is the sense of taste. I’ve included scenes where characters were eating, but have been stumped as to how to describe the tastes without making it seem like a deliberate writer’s ploy. Perhaps it’s because I’m not a foodie, and absolutely hate cooking, but tastes are normally not something I think about—which makes them awfully hard to write about.

Yesterday 2 of my sisters and I spent the day sorting through the remaining items in our mother’s house, deciding what was worth donating, what should be discarded, and what we would keep to use ourselves—or save as mementoes of a woman who had impacted our lives more than any other. Afterwards, we went to the Cracker Barrel restaurant where each of us had taken our mother on many occasions. The sights, the sounds, the entire setting of that restaurant brought back memories that are precious to me, but the tastes were what reminded me most of my mother. I experienced firsthand how much emotion certain tastes can trigger, and how food really can have an important role in our lives.

All 3 of us chose chicken and dumplings as our main course, with cornbread to go with it, simply because that’s what my mom always ordered at Cracker Barrel. I even ordered lemonade and country green beans (not together!) in honor of her. As we ate, we compared our meals to the ones Mom had prepared for us as children. Her dumplings were heavier, somewhat doughier, but had a similar taste. I recognized the flavor of lard on the green beans; my mom always and only used lard as a flavoring. She saved the bacon drippings in a pink can next to her stove, and used it in beans, mashed potatoes, and gravies. It wasn’t until we all left home, and my dad died, that she started using store-bought cooking oils (Crisco), and that was only because she had no one to cook bacon for.

Memories of her will always be with me even though she is not; and though I may not be any better at describing tastes in my stories, I know that dumplings and green beans will forever remind me of my childhood and my mom.



What foods or tastes carry special memories for you? Which of the 5 senses (taste, touch, smell, hearing, vision) is hardest for you to include in your writing? Do you agree that including tastes or descriptions of food in a story helps convey emotions or can have special meaning, or does it seem unnecessary to you?

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You’ve probably heard the admonition that writers should “show, not tell,” meaning that we should allow readers to visualize what is happening rather than flat out telling them. One way to help make a story come alive is to appeal to the readers’ five senses. Let them see, hear, touch, taste, and smell the story.

Whenever I hear that, I visualize a child’s board book with those touchy-feely-smelly inserts that teach them basic science. The same concept applies to written words: let readers interact with the story through their own experience. Hint at things rather than painting the full picture and the reader will fill in the details based on the ideas your words invoke.

I find it hardest to appeal to the sense of sound. There are obvious images, like a dog barking to indicate an intruder, or someone crying to show sadness. Those are so well-known, though, that they’ve become clichéd, and therefore unoriginal. So what’s a writer to do?

Think about the sounds you hear as you go about your day. Take notes on how they make you feel, or how someone else reacts. Perhaps a ringtone reminds you of your first boyfriend, or a train whistle makes your gut clench with fear because your best friend was hit trying to cross the tracks ahead of the freight train and his car stalled at the crucial moment. Insert such sounds into the story and, with appropriate use of backstory, it can enrich the setting and characterization.

In a future post, I’ll talk about some of the other sensory details you might consider. The main purpose of this one, however, is to allow me to use the word tintinnabulation.

  Noun: tintinnabulation – the sound of a bell ringing; “the distinctive ring of the church bell”; “the ringing of the telephone”; “the tintinnabulation that so voluminously swells from the ringing and the dinging of the bells”–E. A. Poe

(Definition from:  http://www.tfd.com/tintinnabulation  )

Whenever I hear that word, I think of the poem by Edgar Allen Poe called The Bells. The use of sound in that poem focuses on the different messages a ringing bell can have, and how it affects those who hear it. From the tinkling of sleigh bells to the sorrowful tolling of iron bells, the noises portray a scene most readers could envision. It’s an excellent example of how sound can be used to touch the emotions of readers.



Can you think of other examples where sound might be used to enrich a story?  Do you have a favorite “sound” word? What “sound” really grates on your nerves?

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