One of the final things I do with every first draft before I send it in to my editor is to go through each page to make sure I've layered in the six senses. I believe this one thing enriches the novel more than anything else I do as a writer.
I'm (finally) learning to weave more of the senses in as I lay words down for the first time. But even so, that final pass through the manuscript is crucial.
Here are examples of how I used the senses in After All, the third in my Hanover Falls Novels series.
Have you given each character's voice a distinct quality and a tone that fits his mood?
FROM AFTER ALL: “Hey… Cut that out right now.” Pete’s voice was gentle, but his words were firm. “I see where your mind is going.”
She winced. “Okay, okay… Busted.”
And don't forget, background noises are every bit as important as dialogue in setting the tone of a scene, and helping the reader experience it.
FROM AFTER ALL: They stood in silence watching their fishing lines float like gossamer over the black water, the red-and-white bobbers rolling with the gentle current. The slosh of the water lapping at the rocks was the most soothing sound Susan could imagine.
Before characters ever speak (or at least very early in each scene) we need to be able to visualize them in their setting. "Paint” a backdrop and set the stage. Then, everything that follows will play like a movie in your reader's imagination.
FROM AFTER ALL: So this was the place Dave had called home. Morning sun streamed through clerestory windows high on the wall and turned the space into a jewel box of colors. Had that well-worn recliner in the corner been his?
Think how many places you could identify by smell alone. Use that fact to add even more realism to each scene. And don't forget to show how the smell affected your character.
FROM AFTER ALL: She noticed he carried a big lantern along with the fishing gear. They came upon the river, and the scents of mud and fish and water hung in the heavy summer air. It was a good smell. Reminded her of her childhood.
Taste conveys not only pleasure, as in the mouth-watering taste of food or the refreshment of a cool drink, but it can also express emotion.
Other than to describe food, the sense of taste is probably the most neglected sense in literature. Infuse your scenes with deep emotion by layering in tastes in ways that reflect more than the obvious.
FROM AFTER ALL: She swallowed another swell of tears and winced at the bitter taste that filled her throat.
Adding literal texture to your scenes helps your novel become a figuratively textured piece of work as well. Adding in tactile sensations gives depth to your scenes and often becomes a metaphor for the emotion you wish to portray.
FROM AFTER ALL: When Ferris Park’s fireworks fizzled away, Pete's arm tightened around her and he reached up with his other hand to brush her hair away from her face. She wanted him to kiss her. There was no denying that. But she put a hand on his smooth cheek and gently held him off. "It's been a wonderful evening. Let's just…go slow, okay?"
THE "SIXTH SENSE”
The sixth sense, perhaps more than the other five, is what makes our characters most vivid and real to our readers. In the inspirational market, this sense is often considered to be that “still, small voice” of the Holy Spirit. If you write fantasy or paranormal, that sixth sense might take the form of mental telepathy, etc. In mystery or suspense novels, it could be the ultra-keen instinct of a detective. In matters of romance, it might be labeled “woman’s intuition.”
That sixth sense infuses any story with deeper levels of complexity, intensity and mystery.
FROM AFTER ALL: She rummaged in her purse for her keys and held them at the ready before letting herself out. She was thankful she’d parked next to the building. But as she walked to her car, a shiver went through her. She wasn’t given to premonitions, but she had the oddest feeling someone was watching her.
A PINCH OF THIS, A PINCH OF THAT
Like seasoning in a fine stew, too much of one spice might overpower the more important one, but with a judicious edit, purposefully sprinkling the various senses throughout your manuscript, you can breathe new life into your story.
FROM AFTER ALL: Susan made her way across the dark parking lot. The air smelled like fresh-mown grass and though the thermometer had hit eighty today, the night air was chilly. She shivered in her short sleeves and rubbed a thumb over the teeth of her car key.
DEBORAH RANEY's first novel, A Vow to Cherish, inspired the World Wide Pictures film of the same title and launched her writing career after 20 happy years as a stay-at-home mom. Her books have won numerous awards including the RITA, the Carol Award, National Readers Choice Award, HOLT Medallion, and have twice been Christy Award finalists. Deb's newest novel released from Howard/Simon & Schuster in May. She and her husband, Ken Raney, enjoy the wildflowers and native grasses in the Kansas prairie garden in their backyard. They also love traveling together to teach at conferences, and to visit four children and four small grandchildren who all live much too far away. Visit Deb on the Web at www.deborahraney.com.