Every minute, you are taking in information, whether you’re paying attention or not. Everything you see, hear, smell, taste, and touch goes into your brain, where it will be thought about, reacted to, remembered, stored in your subconscious, or combined with other sights, sounds, smells, tastes and textures. All these impressions are slurped up through your senses. Your body and mind combine to make an amazingly complex processor of the world you live in. In fact, the title of this lesson is a little misleading: it’s really not the world that’s so sensory–it’s YOU.
Incorporating sensory experience into your writing can become second nature if you practice it, just as you practice jump shots in the gym or shifting gears in a standard- transmission Mustang. Learn to pay attention to what’s going around you! And use your memory–that place in your brain where nothing is ever lost, even though you may have to do some digging to find it.
Try this experiment. On a sheet of paper, write five lines about a season of the year, expressing how it looks, sounds, smells, tastes, and feels. For example:
Summer looks like sparkling blue water in the YMCA pool.
Summer sounds like classic rock blared over the radio through sound systems and open car windows.
Summer smells like chlorine and coconut sunscreen.
Summer tastes like lemonade and watermelon.
Summer feels like sweat dripping from my skin after a beach volleyball game.
Now rewrite those lines to express more action, using some strong verbs:
Summer sparkles like the sun-splashed blue water in the YMCA pool.
Summer blares like classic rock from sound systems and zooming cars.
Summer stings like chlorine and soothes like coconut sunscreen.
Summer bursts in juicy sprays with every bite of watermelon.
Summer slides on warm sweaty skin into fall–always too soon.
Now we’ll get more abstract. Choose one of your favorite colors and imagine how it would look, sound, smell, taste, and feel. For example:
looks like the darkness of a moonless night,
sounds like someone sneaking up on you,
smells like hot tar,
tastes like overripe berries,
feels like a soft leather jacket.
And finally, try this. Think of a strong emotion and remember a time when you felt it. Write five lines communicating the experience of that emotion at that time. You may use the formula, “Fear [or whatever] looks like… sounds like…” etc. But you might want to experiment with other patterns, such as
Glancing nervously over the travel posters on the wall;
Shifting around on the cracked vinyl seat;
Swallowing the iron-tinged saliva that wells up under my tongue;
Smelling the medicinal whiff of Novocain;
Hearing the dread sentence: “The dentist will see you now.