Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Using All 11 Senses

Want to really get under the skin of your characters? Then do it. Get in their heads and get sensory.

You know the basic senses:

Sight - but some people are colour blind while others “see” the word Monday as red. (This is called synaesthesia).
Sound - and the direction of where sounds are coming from.
Smell - evokes memories as well. This is the first sense that develops - even before a baby is born.
Touch - a strong sense from birth. Babies use touch to see (putting things in their mouths) because their eyes aren’t fully developed yet.
Taste - we have between 2,000 and 8,000 taste buds each. Taste is also strongly linked with smell AND taste doesn’t work if our mouth is completely dry. You need saliva to taste anything. This is probably why, when we smell something delicious, our mouth starts watering.

Often my first drafts are a huge mess. The only senses I generally use are basic sights and sounds. Just to get the main story down. In the next drafts I go deeper, layering smells, tastes and touches on the pages too.

1) Have some fun writing a story without using sight. What other senses do you use instead? 
2) Write a story all about tasting new things. What do they taste like? Do they remind you of other foods? Do they bring back memories?

We have so much more than the basic five senses. All of these are senses too:

Balance - ie, falling over or keeping your balance.
Stand up, put your arms out, then raise one knee. You will find your bady can still balance on one leg. 
Now do it with your eyes closed. How hard is it to balance? That's because your sight also helps you keep your balance. The other part is the inner ear - there's a tiny amount of liquid in the inner ear that gives us balance - or vertigo if it’s damaged.

Temperature. We can touch something and feel how hard and soft it is, but we can also feel the temperature around us all the time. Is it hot or cold in here? Mum’s always telling you to put your jacket on but you don’t feel the cold???

Proprioception - this is a big fancy word to say we know where our body is in the space we’re taking up. Without having to look, we know our arm is leaning on the table, we know where our feet are. We can cross our feet without having to look at them first to make sure they’re going the right way. Some people can type on a keyboard without having to look where the letters are because they know where their fingers are in the ‘space’ around them.
Close your eyes and touch your finger to the end of your nose. You don’t have to see it to do it. This is where your senses step in and help you.

Pain - we have pain receptors in our body that tell us when something is wrong with our body. We fall off the monkeybars and our foot is killing us. It’s our body's way of making us take the weight off and rest our foot until it’s healed.

Time - you know how sometimes time flies or it drags? This is also a sense. It’s our brains processing the passing of time.

Not strictly a sense, but everyone feels various amounts of:
Emotions - Our brains process emotions and feelings. We’re happy when we see friends and have a good time, we’re miserable when we’re hurt. We also have mixed emotions when we remember events from the past, or anticipate what’s coming up tomorrow.
For example, an assignment is due tomorrow, you’re nervous about whether the teacher will give you good marks. On Tuesday night you’re having a sleepover, so you’re excited about staying up late and playing Plants vs Zombies all night.

By using more than our basic senses in a story, we create a real world for the character and the reader. Too many senses all at once can become confusing, but not enough can make the story feel underdeveloped.
 It's up to you to find the balance.

Animals and plants with extra senses:
Echolocation - bats and some other animals can sense where they are - even in flight - by detecting the speed of soundwaves bouncing off cave walls.
Electroreception - sharks and platypus can sense changes in the magnetic fields around them - or even create magnetic fields.
Magnetoreception - birds migrate using this - aligning themselves to the earth’s magnetic fields.


Emmie said...

That's all really interesting Ebony! And great food for thought when we're trying to add more color that's not just of the same old tropes. I'd not thought about including temperature or time, but they're very revealing things -- if someone is cold in an otherwise warm place, or feels time is dragging, that says a lot about what is going on for him/her.

And as an interesting aside, I love the word "proprioception" for some reason.

Ebony McKenna. said...

I'm a huge fan of proprioception. It's something that some people on the autism spectrum have trouble with. Then again, my dude can kick a footy and is teaching himself to juggle, so I think he dodged that one.

I love it. And these 11 senses are the ones experts can agree on. Well, 10 plus emotions. But what about 'gut feelings?' I suppose they're emotions too?

And of course, spidey senses! Mine are tingling :-)

Meradeth Houston said...

These are great fun! I hadn't thought of using the extra senses you listed before, but they definitely add a lot to a story!

Ebony McKenna. said...

Aren't they cool? I gave a workshop similar to this to an amazing group of students at my local library. We had such a good time and I immediately wanted to write a story about a girl with electroreception. Because that would be so cool!