Sense and Immersion Part 2
Last week I went through sight, sound and touch. The barrage of sense information one experiences in an everyday fashion, when described, could be considered overwhelming. Yet our brains, the wonderful organs that they are, process this information, and we take it all very matter-of-factly.
Your job as a writer of course is to translate these experiences through the eyes of your characters. Eyes, ears, hands, skin, nose…. The list can go on and on. It is up to you to decide ultimately how sense is portrayed. My mentor David Farland always says ‘try to use at least one of each every few hundred words’. Keep your character grounded in every way possible.
Sense of Taste
Well bite your tongue, dear reader! Taste the iron tang of blood? Of course if you have done that purely because you read it here, maybe I should be off in a job that utilises my apparent powers of persuasion. But the point stands. Taste can be a very important sense, in the right situation. I would not suggest that your characters should be walking around with their mouths hung open, but people need to eat, so characters need to eat.
It reminds me of a scene in The Matrix shortly after Neo has been freed. They are all sat down to a synthesized breakfast, what looks like runny eggs. The character ‘Mouse’ questions how machines knew what chicken tasted like, which was why it probably tasted like everything.
Your job as a writer is to make the reader taste different sensations through the character’s experience. It is not just flavours. Imagine the feeling of dust coating the inside of one’s mouth when caught out in a desert, or the consistency of peanut butter and how it sticks everywhere in your mouth. On a grimmer note, consider the acid of reflux, or a ‘wet burp’, how it gets caught in the back of your mouth, making your face screw up. How do you make chicken not taste like everything? Through the protagonists reaction to it.
Sense of Smell
To me personally, this sense is the strongest, the most evocative. I am continually freaking my poor lovely wife out by telling her how a particular smell reminds me of our honeymoon in Australia thirteen years back (we have been together nearly twenty-one so she had plenty of time to get used to my…. uniqueness). You can smell when snow is in the air.
You can smell the scent of ozone when it has been dry for weeks and you get a thunderstorm. In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Giles once said that he would always prefer books to computers because of the smell. I agree! Granted lately I have been doing that Kindle thing (other non-Kindle tablets are available…. onto which you can download Kindle…) because it’s quicker and more convenient to get hold of books. But sniff your books! They are full of their own unique flavour, especially as they age.
Your protagonist will always be able to sense a scent in the air, just as you do (unless you fell on your head and lost it through trauma). Your job will be to decide which memories it evokes in them, and how this helps take the story forward.
The sixth sense…
So do me a favour. Get off the computer, or the phone. Go outside if you are not already there. Find yourself a nice big open field, or a sports pitch. Close your eyes and take fifty paces. Feel your body tense up as you get further and further into the count. Are you going to hit something? Fall down a pothole? Can you feel the sun on your face in a particular direction and try to triangulate your position by its angle? Moreover, can you will yourself to keep going even though your body is screaming out at you to stop or open your eyes just because you can.
That to me is an example of the sixth sense, or just ‘knowing’ that there will be imminent consequences to your actions. It is a gut instinct that is crying out for acknowledgement in you as a person. Your protagonist should be no different. They too will have feelings based on instinct. It is the combination of the five other senses that often leads one to this conclusion. In a ghost story, if the temperature drops, the body will react accordingly since we all know something spectral is likely to be round the corner. In an action adventure, when it is quiet, you know that there is going to be an event of consequence about to happen.
Experiences from our other senses make us unconsciously prepare for the unknown. When it happens, adrenaline causes the fight or flight response. Your character is fictional, but they still need to portray the same responses in order to convince the reader that they are multi-dimensional. ‘I just know’ might be a satisfactory answer for secondary characters in the story, but you as a writer will have to show the reader why the character came to that conclusion via internal thought process.
Or maybe the reader just knows…..
The Eleventh Percent
Okay a little treat (in my eyes) for you this week. Please be so kind as to check out ‘The Eleventh Percent’ series by my pal (and shoulder to lean on while I do the Insanity workout) Terrick Heckstall:
Jonah Rowe has an uneventful life. He is always bored, can’t see the point of anything, and just wishes that something in his life would turn out right. He gets his wish in rude fashion; his uneventful life takes a turn for the weird when he discovers that he is an Eleventh Percenter, an ethereal human who can influence and interact with the spirit world. As he discovers more about his true nature, he makes new friends, learns new truths, and juggles his “normal” life with his new life in fellowship with spiritual beings. His survival depends on his successful handling of all three.
I have read the first of the novels, and am looking forward to the second. You can find more info here:
KINDLE US: http://amzn.to/1tE41Kk
KINDLE UK: http://amzn.to/1wKdsa8
KINDLE AU: http://bit.ly/1nU54VG