Character Development, Oldsters, Protagonists, Scene Writing, The Writing Life

What’s the Sense?


A core element of good writing is including sensory details. Some senses are readily at hand as we write our stories – what our character sees or hears for example. But even with those two, how much better can we make them? I find the revision process the perfect time to try to improve what I’ve thrown out there with my first draft, but also to make sure I’m not ignoring often looked-over senses such as touch, taste and smell.

While revising my novel, Oldsters, I’m excited to edit away so many redundant and irrelevant words in order to make room for better choices – and some of these additions include sensory details. Here’s just a couple I’ve worked into my story:

Hearing: While this is a pretty simple one – characters hear all kinds of sounds – it’s nice to try to develop something a bit more original. In a scene I just revised, the group is driving down Route 66 and they’ve decided to pass the time by telling stories from their past. (I have not gone flashback crazy I promise…there are only two). Anyway, Lila is relaying the story of moving from a very small town to work as a shop girl back during the early 1960s in Chicago. Every day when she goes into the store she and the others punch the big metal time clock in their break room. In my first draft, I glossed over this quickly. During revision though, I thought about the sound that punch makes, and what it meant to Lila:

This morning, Lila made her way to the employee room. She took the tan card with her name at the top out of its slot and pushed it down between the two metal pieces that attached to the clock face. On her first day, the loud ca chunk of the time clock had made Lila jump. She’d never seen anything like it. But now, it was just something else she looked forward to, dunking her card every morning, lunch break and the end of each day. The sound of independence.

Smell: I will admit I am not a wine drinker, so I did some research to get the concoction here right – but that’s part of the writer’s tools right? In this scene my protagonist, Eddie, is remembering the last vacation he took with his wife and their discussion of him possibly writing a novel:

“They all said the same thing – everyone has a story to tell, everyone has a book inside of them.” She poured the last of the lush Merlot, inhaling the dramatic aroma of dark cherries, black pepper and chocolate.

“A novel?” Eddie considered as he swirled his glass, breathing in the sweetness of the burgundy liquid.

 These are just a couple of examples, and as I just did a quick search for the word “touch” I didn’t find anything worthwhile – so seems like I still have some work cut out for myself. The point is – the characters are real (aren’t they?) – so give them the attributes we all have, and let them experience their world the same way you and I experience ours!

Write on…

2 thoughts on “What’s the Sense?”


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