Thursday, June 25, 2015

Coming to our senses

I know you like to step behind the scenes with us every now and then and get a glimpse at the writing life and the techniques behind the books.  So today, I want to talk about the five senses. We authors would be lost if we didn’t use these as a way to connect our fictional worlds with our readers.  We want you to see, hear, taste, smell and touch that world. Just as we do. 

I’m not sure about you, but taste is right up there.  That’s why in our book collector mysteries Signora Panetone is always teetering into the dining room or the conservatory with a massive platter of something delicious.  When we mention the signora’s chocolate tiramisu in The Marsh Madness, we don’t have to tell you what it tastes like.  You have instantly figured that out.  And we've included that recipe in the book for your real sense of taste.

Your mouth may be watering.  Food is a great way of bringing you into the story and into the room and right up to the table. That’s because taste matters so much to most of us. 

Even a humble cuppa pays off in fiction.

If our character gets to share a cup of tea with a friend or colleague, we know what that’s like. We can relax with her.  

On the other hand, if she’s in a tough situation and all there is to found is a cup of cold coffee, we experience that too.   

 I don’t even describe them, because I know you will get it instantly. 

We know if Good Cat sidles up and rubs against Jordan’s bare leg, you’ll feel it too.

 Of course, you’ll also feel it if Bad Cat gets a sudden slash at the same bare leg.  You should never let down your guard in fiction. 

When I read a book and I notice the author has given me a rose to smell, a delicious treat to nibble, a comfy bed to climb into, a gorgeous view to admire, or the creak of a door to listen to.  I appreciate it.  I am not in an abstract situation. I’m in a real one.  

Of course, the inability to see clearly in the night, also plays on our senses and our atavistic fears.

On a happier note, in the Marsh Madness, I gave Jordan a lovely raspberry vintage wool dress to wear to an important lunch.  Every time I thought about that dress (or read it in the edits) I was transported to the fancy luncheon where all the trouble began. 

Some of these verbal images cover a few senses: take Walter the Pug (aka Peachy)

You can see his long-suffering face as described, feel his soft velvety fur, listen to him snuffle and sort, and depending on what he’s been rolling in, you can smell him too!  Four out of five senses. Not bad! Not bad, Walter.

But of course, our senses can be mobilized in less pleasant ways: our sleuth can pick up the soft squeak of an approaching villain’s shoes, or a sudden gunshot. Maybe she’ll hear the snick of metal handcuffs.   

Yikes! What did I do with the keys?

That can’t be good. She may feel icy cold being stuck in a dank cave or worse or treading water in a stagnant pond.  She may see a skull!  Don't worry - it's just a candle, one of many weird items in my home.

In fact, I may just rush off and write a few scenes with a skull or two and a dank cave and the urgent need to keep treading stagnant water.   I'll be sure to add a cake to the chapter to make it up to you!

How about you? Do you feel more engaged when a book uses the senses to bring you into the story?  Do you have a sense that you prefer? Let’s hear it, my friends.