It's in the details!
As I write this post, sunlight is peeking through the blinds, the scent of morning rain is in the air, the backyard rooster is crowing way past sunrise, the rich creaminess of hot chocolate warms me to the core, and our cat Ollie, in all his winter-coat furriness, is rubbing up against my feet. You guessed it. The lesson this week is about adding sensory details to our writing.
I don't need a sixth sense to tell me (and neither do you) that my sensory examples are not great ones, but they do illustrate the five basic senses we should be appealing to in our writing. If my main character is going to drink a hot chocolate, for example--and why wouldn't she, hot chocolate is delicious--then I want my reader to drink along with her.
The purpose is to, as the lesson states, "evoke an active response" in the reader. This makes for more memorable writing. This also makes for very satisfied readers, and not just from the yummy hot chocolate that, really, exists only in the pages of my story.
My experience: Sensory details generally don't just roll off the pen or out our fingers when placed on the keyboard. They are most likely something we add in long after a first draft is written, often not until we get to the serious polishing stage of our manuscript.
What are your most enduring memories of childhood? This is the perfect sort of question to get a writer thinking about sensory details because it's almost a sure bet that our most vivid memories are based in one of the fives senses: the summer smell of fresh-cut grass, the neon lights of a weekend carnival, Grandma's pucker-sweet lemon squares, squishy, wet sand between toes, and mother singing hymns in her calming alto while I lay my head in her lap at church.
These are a few of my favorites. What are yours?
TAMARA: You've distracted me with 'rich creaminess.' All I want now is my own cup of cocoa. Which I will probably need as I watch footage of the blizzard of 2015. This will date me, but here goes: I was six years old for the blizzard of 1978. My brothers had to clear a path from our front porch to the sidewalk just so my mother could ride the neighbor's snowmobile to the grocery store. When I peered outside into the blinding, white cold, I remember looking up to see the top of the snow. Four-feet high was over my head. Not to mention the snow drifts by the fence that looked like the whipped meringue on my mother's lemon pie. With school cancelled, we bundled into our snow-suits and waddled out to the backyard (where the brothers had cleared more paths) and built our very own igloo with snow-blocks, created rather ingeniously by one brother. (He used a wide shovel to cut blocks and stacked them by the side of the path.) I can still hear the crunch of the snow under my pint sized boots and see the deceptively warm sunlight reflecting off the snow blanket.
PEGGY: One of my favorite childhood memories?
I started young as an epicurean. Steaming carrots gleaming with melted butter may not seem luxurious to you, but wander with me to a time when I was young.
My great-grandpa had a wonderful garden. He was lean and hardworking. Great-Grandma was warm and round with white curls all over her head. I loved visiting their tiny house.
A trumpet vine, probably as old as they were, tossed out orange flowers like confetti in the back yard. For someone small, it seemed like Jack's Beanstalk: enormous and a challenge to climb. Just beyond that, Great-Grandpa had myriad rows of lush leaves, full of promise and perfectly aligned in the rich soil. I don't think it gets much better than pulling a carrot straight from the garden. We would shake the dirt from them and take them to Great-Grandma. Those divine carrots may have actually come from Heaven. The savory sweetness delighted the tastebuds and cultivated a love of all things yummy.