Thursday, June 1, 2017

Are You Using Your Senses?

I was reading through my latest catalogue of teas from The Upton Tea Company. Just a side note here, if you are a tea drinker, this company produces some great teas! In any case, as I looked through the descriptions, I thought of all of you writers.

One of the things that I often reject projects for is the lack of depth. This is a lack of depth in both character and plot development. When I do this, writers often believe that the problem is that we need more back story for the characters and more sub-plots. While this may be part of the problem, many of the problems may be with the author's writing and word choice. So what does the tea catalogue have to do with this? Consider the following description of one tea:

This low-grown Ceylon selection has dark brown leaves that yield a beautiful copper-red infusion with a bright aroma, hinting of citrus. The lively cup has a full mouth feel with malty nuances and molasses-like sweet notes, which linger into the finish.

Note the levels of description going on. In these two sentences, the company has described the tea using 4 of the 5 senses - sight, touch, smell and taste. For most of you, describing a cup of tea would probably only focus on taste and maybe sight.

When I read stories that are lacking these sentences, this is generally what I read:
  • Historicals the hero is always described with hints of sandalwood.
  • Italian restaurants and dishes only focus on basil and rich tomato sauce.
  • Small towns are only described by the single blinking light and the small store fronts.
While these ideas are certainly a start, what really adds the depth is the addition of all of the other senses. For example, when describing rain, why not bring in the concept of Petrichor - the smell you get when rain is first coming. When you describe a small restaurant, bring in the sounds of the kitchen, the warmth of the ovens.

Be creative here!

Of course, remember that there is a point of going to far. Just don't forget to use those other senses. You will find your story really will get that added depth without piling on the extra useless baggage.

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