Do You Use All Five Senses – Do Your Characters?
This week I’m looking into the idea of fully inhabiting our bodies as a way to deepen the experience readers have with our characters. And maybe in the process this will allow you to inhabit your body, even more fully. So you too can appreciate the subtleties of life that you may possibly be missing out on.
There is a lot that can delight our senses if we deepen our awareness.
So first ask yourself a few questions:
Do you live fully in your body?
Do you use the full range of your senses?
Do you experience all of your senses on a regular basis, at a conscious level?
Do your characters?
For some, this is easier than it is for others.
Some people are a lot more cerebrally driven than sensory driven. Which means they tend to be pretty focused and get things done, which is great! But at the same time, this may mean that they miss out on a lot of the little pleasures in life that surround us on a daily basis.
Usually what is required to access all this extra information that our brain has managed to delete as unimportant, is an awakening with ourselves—allowing us to be completely grounded and centered in our body. A lot of people walk around not really connected to their body, or some are, but only a little.
Others have a heightened body awareness, they are aware of where their limbs are in time and space the majority of the time, they feel the clothes against their skin and sense changes in the environment easily.
So you might say—what has this got to do with me? For one, the more grounded in your body you are, the more you will experience the fullness of life. And two, if you are a writer, it’s going to help you get inside your character’s skin—to breathe life into them fully and see the world through their eyes.
Make Your Characters Come Alive
If you inhabit your skin well, then it will be much easier to jump into your character’s bodies and experience life through their eyes and all of their senses. You will breathe life into your scenes when you can step into them fully clothed in your character’s skin, and experience the world you have created through their eyes.
Connect to Your Characters Environment
Breath in the air and describe it. Marvel at the nuances—the yellow kettle in the corner puffing steam gently into the room. The brilliant greens in a blade of grass at a significant moment. Also pay attention to pain and when the stakes are high, usually our senses sharpen and come into tight focus. We start to notice things that were insignificant moments before—time slows down and we actually start to see and feel what surrounds us in minute detail.
Switch on Your Senses
But this can apply anytime too, we don’t need a trigger like pain to switch us on—to make us come alive. Anytime we want we can step into this moment and feel, taste, smell, hear and see.
The benefits of characters who feel
When your characters fully notice and engage with their surroundings, your readers will too! Thus deepening your reader’s experience. Taste the air, take a deep breath, smell the sweetness or foulness that lingers there. What do you notice?
A Super Power
The way to learn this super power, and yes, I consider it a super power—I know I’m weird—is to start noticing your environment on a much deeper level. Sound is a miraculous and underutilized sense. An interesting exercise is to open a window and listen to what you hear outside, do you hear birds singing, cars driving past, kids playing, what else do you hear, listen deeply. The same with music, listen to a complex piece of music that you know well—then listen deeper, depending on the music, you might hear a whole other level or layers of instruments that you never noticed before—then press closer.
Pay attention to your skin, what do you feel? Notice the surface you’re resting against. Is it rough or soft? Smooth or hard? Where are your clothes touching you? Where do they squeeze or pinch? Where do they feel comfortable? Pick up a drink, feel the weight of the cup in your hand. Is it warm or cold? Touch the cup to your lips, what do you taste? Breathe in. When you’re brushing your teeth, really brush them, consciously notice the bristles against your teeth how does it feel, taste the toothpaste, engage and then go deeper.
Now take your new super power and slip into your character’s skin. What does it feel like to be in their body? How do their senses interpret the world you have created around them? What does he/she feel, see, taste, smell or hear? What’s it like to experience your character in this way?
Do you have a favorite sense?
Does one of your senses dominate over another? Do you tend to experience life visually, audibly, through touch? What about in your writing? Do you tend to focus more fully on one sense? Would developing your character’s other senses give your reader a fuller experience?
What are your thoughts?
I’d love to know what you think! Do you inhabit your body? Do your characters? Do you consider yourself pretty well versed in this department, or could you grow? What tips and tricks do you have for living in a body, or for slipping into your character’s bodies?
Please share your comments in the comment box below, along with any other ideas you would like to share, I’d love to hear from you!
Who are you?
Follow me on twitter @sk_lamont
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Excellent advice, as always. I’ll pay more attention to my senses and use what I experience for my characters. One thing I have done is–sometimes when I’m experiencing a powerful emotion, especially a negative one, I will “step back” and observe myself, what I’m feeling, thinking, and doing. I put these observations in my bag of tricks for future use. I’ve been able to enrich a few a characters and scenes this way. An additional benefit is that the process diffuses unpleasant feelings.
This is a fantastic idea Marie, and sounds like it would be a wonderful addition to our bag of writerly tricks. I’ll need to try that one myself the next time I’m experiencing a negative emotion, and “view” what I’m thinking, feeling and doing. Then see what I discover, and how I can use these discoveries to enrich my characters and scenes. Thank you so much for sharing and commenting!
Hi – when editing I try to stay conscious of the five senses so I can bring the story more to life. It’s also a good way to let the reader see/taste/hear/smell/touch the story instead of “telling” it to them. Editing is when I cut out the telling and begin the show – as the show must go on. Thanks for posting.
This is great James, this too is where I really turn up my characters senses. I also try to be very aware during my drafting phase, which can lead to unexpected discoveries when I am lost in my imagination.
Thank you so much for commenting!
Excellent post, as always. (We must be on the same path today)
Funny you should talk about this. I posted in FB this morning about the 3rd Degree Burn Strategy which uses pain as a focal point to describe world, setting, feelings, etc. This strategy requires the writer to know their own senses then use that understanding to get into the character to project from their eyes. I love that.
Another great job SK!
S. C., that is so funny that we are tracking with each other, I shall have to check out your post on FB later, it sounds fascinating. I love stepping into my character’s bodies, and my own, it leads to a much deeper experience of being alive!
Thank you so much for commenting and for sharing!
Thanks for the reminder! I usually remember to include sight (most of the time), but I am constantly working on reminding myself to describe a character’s setting with sound and smell. When I remember to include the senses, it usually comes during the editing process.
Editing is a wonderful time to enrich our characters lives and flesh out our narrative fully. Then our readers get to have a wonderfully deep experience of our characters and the worlds we create!
Thanks so much for your comments, Pam, and for sharing your experience!
Great post, S.K.
Thank you Connie 🙂
So strange that this post showed up in my feed today, just as I’m editing a chapter that is suffering mightily from “sensory deprivation”! Some good tips here that I’ll be referring back to — thanks!
That’s awesome, L.C., so glad my post helped out. I often find if a chapter is feeling a bit dry, that if I turn up the sensory juice it can make the whole scene work!
Thank you so much for commenting!
It’s a very nice post. Since I only write non-fiction I have noticed that when I write about any past even I get so engrossed that it seems I am living in that moment. The whole scene comes alive and I even forget that I am sitting and visiting the event. After writing for a while when I come back to the present, at times I forget where even my coffee mugs are kept. That’s the advantage of, as you said, using all our senses for writing.
Yes, Majida, that’s like writing fiction too getting completely lost in the moment is a magical experience. It’s as if time disappears and you’re actually living and experiencing other worlds, it’s completely amazing!
Thank you so much for commenting and sharing your thoughts!
Very helpful post!! Thank you!!!
Glad you found it helpful, Kat!! 🙂
I am one of your fellow October 2015 Platform Challenge participants, and enjoying perusing your site and blog. This post reminds me of what happens as I walk my dog along the lakefront, noticing the fishy, salty, smell of the water, the warmth of the sun on my skin, the sound of her excited bark as she meets a new dog friend or chases a squirrel up a tree. It is those kinds of experiences that definitely get me into the sensory place and out of my head. I never really thought to use that feel to inhabit my characters though…so will be bringing that experience into my writing going forward. Thanks for sharing!
Hi, Linda, thanks for stopping by! I could almost smell the air on your walk with your dog and the warmth of the sun. Isn’t it wonderful when we soak fully in our senses, and what a gift we can bring to our characters. Thank you so much for sharing!