Yesterday at The Writers @ Lovedean we did an interesting writing exercise to complete our work on the senses. I deliberately left hearing until last because although we find if easy to write about what we see and hear, occasionally remembering to add smell and taste, our stories are... sadly silent.
I played twelve short audio clips lasting between one to two minutes. It was a shock to even the most cynical members the strong visual images the sounds evoked.
The grandfather clock stirred memories of sleepless nights and boredom. The muffled indistinct tannoy promoted images of wandering around train stations anxiously trying to decide where you are suppose to be going. And of course the babies cry. Many of the women in the group had written stories from the point of view of a young mother, but the cry made our memories sharper somehow.
The literary term is 'sensory description'. Writers use it because it allows the reader to enter the scene more effectively by involving them directly and by evoking a more emotional response. It works because it creates imagery in the mind.
And let's have a look how the expert uses the senses in their writing, and since we are near his birth place I thought why not Dickens.
From 'Hard Times' by Charles Dickens
'[Coketown] was a town of red brick, or of brick that would have been red if the smoke and ashes had allowed it but as matters stood it was a town of unnatural red and black like the painted face of a savage.
It was a town of machinery and tall chimneys, out of which interminable serpents of smoke trailed themselves for ever and ever, and never got uncoiled. It had a black canal in it, and a river that ran purple with ill-smelling dye, arid vast piles of building full of windows where there was a rattling and a trembling all day long, and where the piston of the steam-engine worked monotonously up and down, like the head of an elephant in a state of melancholy madness. It contained several large streets all very like one another, and many small streets still more like one another, inhabited by people equally like one another, who all went in and out at the same hours, with the same sound upon the same pavements, to do the same work, and to whom every day was the same as yesterday and tomorrow, and every year the counterpart of the last and the next...'
From 'My Family and Other Animals' by Gerald Durrell
Halfway up the slope, guarded by a group of tall, slim, cypress-trees, nestled a small strawberry-pink villa, like some exotic fruit lying in the greenery. The cypress-trees undulated gently in the breeze, as if they were busily painting the sky a still brighter blue for our arrival.
The villa was small and square, standing in its tiny garden with an air of pink-faced determination. Its shutters had been faded by the sun to a delicate creamy-green, cracked and bubbled in places. The garden, surrounded by tall fuschia hedges, had the flower beds worked in complicated geometrical patterns, marked with smooth white stones. The white cobbled paths, scarcely as wide as a rake’s head, wound laboriously round beds hardly larger than a big straw hat, beds in the shape of stars, half-moons, triangles, and circles all overgrown with a shaggy tangle of flowers run wild. Roses dropped petals that seemed as big and smooth as saucers, flame-red, moon-white, glossy, and unwrinkled; marigolds like broods of shaggy suns stood watching their parent’s progress through the sky. In the low growth the pansies pushed their velvety, innocent faces through the leaves, and the violets drooped sorrowfully under their heart- shaped leaves. The bougainvillaea that sprawled luxuriously over the tiny iron balcony was hung, as though for a carnival, with its lantern-shaped magenta flowers. In the darkness of the fuschia-hedge a thousand ballerina-like blooms quivered expectantly. The warm air was thick with the scent of a hundred dying flowers, and full of the gentle, soothing whisper and murmur of insects.
Chuffed Books next anthology is exploring writing about the senses: