Today’s guest post is by Laura L. Smith. She is a best-selling author and speaker who lives in the picturesque college town of Oxford, Ohio, where you’ll find her running the wooded trails, strolling the brick streets, teaching Bible study at her local church, shopping at the Saturday morning farmer’s market, or going on a sunset walk with her husband and four kids. Her latest title, How Sweet the Sound, dives into the power and relevance of hymns in our modern lives. She is represented by Bob Hostetler.
My phone is great for loads of things. But every time I pick it up it feels flat, smooth and the temperature of its environment. It smells like absolutely nothing. And taste? Well, considering phones are said to have more germs than a public restroom floor, I don’t want to try. I’m guessing it’s as tasteless as it is odorless. Technology is extremely useful, but the written word has an edge over it.
I could post a picture of the black trail that winds through my nearby woods to tell you a story about my morning run. I could go a step further and post a video. Then you’d glimpse the squirrel with orange markings around his ears darting in front of me. You’d hear the echo of my feet as I jogged across the covered bridge. If we got really snazzy and put it in virtual reality, you could see the trail, squirrel, and bridge through my eyes. But as with everything digital, the viewer would miss all the tastes, smells, and physical sensations. They’d only access two of the five senses.
But writers? If we’re doing our job well, we can one-up technology by providing our readers a full sensory experience. Here are the first five minutes of my run, not in a picture, video, or VR, but simply in words.
The thick, pungent exhaust from a lone truck assaulted my nose and mouth as I stretched my tight calves in the parking lot. But once on the trail the air was crisp and fresh. I inhaled giant gulps of it, letting it fill my lungs with something clearer, purer than the circulated air from my vents at home.
The wind pricked my cheeks. Somewhere overhead, a woodpecker’s lightning-fast beak hammered a tree trunk. Looking up, I caught a glimpse of his scarlet head bright in contrast against the pale gray sky and blackish branches stripped of their leaves. Earbuds in, I pressed play on my Maverick City playlist and started moving. The piano chords and deep, soulful cadence of Dante Bowe’s voice in my ears and the air so clean it tasted like spring water propelled me forward. Soon my breathing settled into a pattern and my feet found their rhythm sinking into the soft cinder trail.
I hope you found yourself on the trail with me. That’s what writers do—invite our readers into our journeys. That could be a journey of understanding a certain theology or of a woman walking to a stream during the Civil War (either fictional or nonfictional) or a journey out of depression or debt or through marriage or adoption. No matter the journey we’re writing about, we can bring our readers along with us by offering them a full sensory experience depicted by words.
You try. What are you currently writing? Try incorporating taste, smell, touch, or all three into your article, blog post, or chapter.
You have done a marvelous job of helping your readers use several senses through your writing. Thanks!
I can smell the fresh air from past cleansing rain. Only God can clean our stinky pollutants.
Beautiful descriptive words I love reading, yet when I write I feel rushed to get to its final journey leaving my story less interesting. How can I slow my cadence? Well done. Thank you.
The copper taste of cancer
in my mouth and throat
is not the final answer,
for faith still gets a vote,
eyes lifted to the clean bright sky,
sweet-scented breeze doth soothe my brow,
and whispered promise, “Here am I,
to share with you the now
that seems so hard, and is in truth,
for mortal life must pass away;
but ’till then, child, please take as proof
these words which I will say:
though blood-slicked road be slick as moss,
I’ll help you bear this rough-hewn cross.”
Kristen Joy Wilks
That was wonderful! Now I need to jump into the sensory details of puppy slobber!
What beautiful writing sprang from this page. Now, back to my present reality after lunch, a herd of inquisitive 7th graders I assist in science. I appreciate the break, thank you! : )
Smell is the sense most often ignored in writing, and yet, it can be the most evocative. I’m currently writing a scene in which the female protagonist has a bad head cold, and smells are trying to get through her stuffy nose. So she appreciates what does penetrate: the menthol chest rub, garlicky steam from chicken noodle soup, the super-cinnamony scent of apple pie, etc.
Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D.
What a great idea! Thanks!
Ann L Coker
I’m ready now to look through my manuscript for sensory perception.