Thursday, March 2, 2017
Overview Setting: Sensory Details Connect
Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults
“..when sensory detail is included -readers are pulled into the scene as they recall their own associations with the experience.” (unknown)
In our early drafts we often write everything down as it comes to us through our senses. Usually we lean on ordinary words for basic descriptions. Then we go back through to paint in feelings and scenery and ambiance. But sometimes we’re still stuck with the ordinary because it’s so familiar that other thoughts or phrases just won’t come to mind without sounding artificial or planted.
The key to using strong sensory details is to connect with the reader—which is extremely important to this age group—especially from the youngest up. So sometimes the familiar and ordinary can be the more powerful details. Or we can use them as a link to introduce a wider viewpoint and vocabulary.
For example, when eating new foods or hearing new sounds the details help the reader recognize the character as more real as he reacts to the senses. We often see pictures of toddlers attempting to eat spaghetti and are covered in sauce. But what about a toddler who doesn’t like to get sticky? The experience is now not humorous but stressful.
Actually no sensory observation is complete until the fictional character’s emotional response is included. We need the essential, specific word choices: salty-sour-sweet-bitter. If it smells bad is it like a: rotten egg, a sewer, or low tide? However we also need to recognize that what smells bad to one character may actually be sweet to another. I discovered that one day when driving with an elderly friend. I smelt something noxious and worried it was my car. I asked if she could smell it and her reply was “isn’t it lovely?” Apparently we were smelling sulfur, which to her reminded her of where she grew up near sulfur springs.
We can’t incorporate every possible sensory detail but need to choose which reflects best for each scene, whether we are writing fiction or non-fiction. What will create the mood? Even in a fast moving fight scene we can have character feel the sweat and taste the blood on his lip.
1. One good exercise to try is to describe an object without saying what it is. Try it out at the dinner table and see if your family can guess. This helps pull in new sensory details.
2. Note which vocabulary words made a connection.
Share: What did you choose? What kind of response did you get?
Read deep, marcy