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.



Jeanetta said...

I think the more senses used helps to make the story come "alive."

Mary Jane Maffini said...

I do too Jen! Thanks for coming by!


NoraA said...

I love closing my eyes while reading and imagining the scene in my mind. It most likely doesn't look like the author imagined it but it helps me digest what I'm reading.

Mary Jane Maffini said...

Thanks Nora! Love having you here. XO

Anonymous said...

Can't decide whether I use visual or taste more. I love mysteries with recipes at the end. I also know that I have strongly objected to certain actors playing a character, such as Derek Jacoby playing Brother Cadfael. He's a great actor and actually good enough for me to ignore the fact that he doesn't look at all like Ellis Peters described Cadfael. Cordella

Duffy Brown said...

I think the smells really bring a place to life in a book…baking in the kitchen, the rain blowing in, the flower garden in the sun, fresh strawberries, bride’s bouquet. pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving.

Leann Sweeney said...

Great blog, MJ! You made me come to my senses even in this piece! :-)

Laura Frye said...

Writing that engages your senses brings a story to life. It is showing, or smelling, or seeing, and not telling. said...

I love it when an author can engage all of my senses while I am reading. They all contribute to activating my imagination as I read.

Mary Jane Maffini said...

I agree, Cordella! I felt that way about David Jason as Frost and Warren Clark as Dalziel. But I had to ignore it because they were terrific.


Mary Jane Maffini said...

Right you are, Duffy! You have lots of life in your books - and great use of senses/


Mary Jane Maffini said...

LOL, Leann! I was thinking about you went I put in stroking fur.


Mary Jane Maffini said...

Exactly, Laura. We're all readers too and appreciate when it's done right.


Mary Jane Maffini said...

Thanks, Joan! I think all the 'chicks' have that knack.


Nancy said...

Definitely, I am transported into another world while reading and the writer evoking all the senses you mention helps take me there, for better or worse. I'm reading a book on my Kindle that has a passage that had me almost gagging because of the sights and smells. I can't even bring myself to mention what they were. I much prefer your flowers and tiramisu. I guess life can't be all roses and sweets.

Mary Jane Maffini said...

Intriguing, Nancy. I'll stick to flowers and tiramisu, although a little spinetingling is good too.


Vicki said...

I love books that engage all of my senses. I feel as if I'm there walking with the characters.

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