Thursday Thoughts: Universal Senses

An instructor of a creative writing class I took one time insisted that every scene needed to have all five senses represented or it wasn’t a complete scene. I dutiful covered all the bases with each assignment. My characters smelled things, and tasted stuff. The things they touched had texture. They saw and they heard. I was all about my character licking the satin slide of melting chocolate cream while watching glittering fireflies dancing on the night breeze whispering through pine needles clustered on branches before fleeing at snap of a dry branch. Hey. I was 13, okay? I have the feeling the Universe is in tune with my 13 yo self.

Oh, Silver, how I love the morning dew on my face, the midday sun on my skin, and the fragrance of jasmine wafting at twilight. The sight of dragonflies darting, the sound of owls “hoo-hooing,” and the infinite perfection conveyed by all my physical senses at every moment of every day, even now.

Thanks, Silver, because if it weren’t for you, such ecstasies I would never know.

Work that body,
The Universe

Silver, just “make sure you don’t hurt nobody” (Sugar Hill in the house).

Song? Movie? Character? I’m obviously not clued in to the above “Sugar Hill” reference, but it’s a good thing to remember–that whole don’t hurt nobody thing. But I digress. Let’s get back to today’s topic–senses. And using them in writing. I find as I grew older and more experienced, my descriptions tended to mirror the particular genre in which I was writing. Fantasy/urban fantasy/paranormal? Oh yeah. Because worldbuilding! Thrillers and mysteries? Yeah, need to touch on the five senses but probably not in such florid extravagance. Thrillers and mysteries need to be tight, taut, and tingling but still atmospheric. Right?

And then there’s romance. Oh, I do have a love/hate relationship with heavy-handed descriptions in romance. Writers, dudes are NOT going to notice the style, brand or know the cost of the heroines shoes! They WILL notice that high heels make her legs look awesome. I’ll amend that. The gay best friend would but the alpha hero? That’s a big ol’ negatory! (And yes, I read TWO different books by the same author where the main narrative voices were alpha-male MC-member heroes who were total fashionista divas where their heroines were concerned. Why?!?! Because this particular author normally writes in the heroine’s POV and she’s known for the details like that. Anyway…

So, I have an uneasy relationship with descriptions. And it’s a fine line deciding what’s too much, what’s too sparse, and what’s just the ticket. I’m open to discussion on this, from writers and readers both. How much is too much? When do you crave more? What leads you to tiptoe through the tulips as you skim through pages to get to the good part? I’m listening…


About Silver James

I like walks on the wild side and coffee. Lots of coffee. Warning: My Muse runs with scissors. Author of several award-winning series--Moonstruck, Nightriders MC, The Penumbra Papers, and Red Dirt Royalty (Harlequin Desire) & other books! Purveyor of magic, mystery, mayhem and romance. Lots and lots of romance.
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5 Responses to Thursday Thoughts: Universal Senses

  1. All the senses in every scene? Wow. As a reader that would drive me nuts. But you know me and description. If I had to say what one thing made me DNF books the most, it’s over-description. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think people… real people… notice all their senses for the most part. Not unless something strikes them and brings a particular sense into focus. Can you imagine if all five of our senses were sparking all the time? We’d go whackobananas..

    Like right now… I’m seeing stuff, natch, but I have to focus on the other senses to even notice they’re there. The hum of my computer, the roughness of the upholstery under my legs, the scent of laundry detergent in my shirt, and the taste of coffee, cigarettes, and toothpaste. If I hadn’t focused, none of that would be more than background noise. Maybe that helped you feel like you were right here, but was it necessary? :shrug:

    I do worry that I don’t provide enough sensory description in my writing. I’m lucky if I get two in there. Then again, I’ve never had anyone tell me I don’t use enough, so there’s that. I’m thinking sensory information, like anything else, should probably be like seasonings in food – sprinkled with a light hand so they enhance the dish and not overwhelm it.

    • Silver James says:

      I think a lot depends on the author’s voice and the genre. I also think you can set up a scene in a few sentences–or even a few words–and then layer in the salient points as the scene progresses. I suspect the teacher was geared toward younger writers and more is always better. Still, I’m like you. I don’t care about shoes and fashions so I skim that stuff. Scenery and atmosphere? Yeah, I like a little more in-depth. You can say “seedy bar” and I have an idea but my seedy bar and the bar the character walked into might be totally different so I want enough info to get it set in my imagination. 🙂

      Also, I think you use just the right amount for the books you write. The level changes. Compare the Djinn/Wish books to Duke. Or the Curse books to either the SCIU or the dystopians. The way you describe things changes. And that’s a good thing, IMO!

  2. says:

    Our creative writing teachers may have gone to the Acme School of Descriptions.
    I read a good chunk of literary fiction and sf/f, so LOTS of Descriptions! But I’m writing a thriller with spies & chase scene across 1970s Europe. I’m finding that writing very tight & focused, while trying to evoke that Cold War atmosphere. It’s very different than what I’ve done in the past, and a huge challenge.

    • Silver James says:

      It’s very hard to switch genres because, as you said, fantasy and cold-war thrillers are two different critters. May I suggest you grab a couple of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels? He very much knew what the spy genre needed and even those those are 50s/60s era books, they still carry the classic flavor that I always strive for in my paranormal thrillers. And speaking of a horse of a different color! LOLOL

      Good luck with your project! It sounds intriguing, especially as I was in college in those years so am very familiar with that whole era. 😉

    • Ooo, that sounds interesting!

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