Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Sensory Writing by Andy Scheer

I woke up the past two mornings smelling smoke.

The trouble is, I'm not at my sister and brother-in-law's camp in the middle of Michigan's Upper Peninsula—a place where that scent evokes memories of campfires, marshmallows, and watching the first stars emerge.

Instead I'm living in northeast Colorado Springs, a few miles from where thousands of acres and hundreds of homes have burned in our second summer of wildfires.

The past two nights as the winds shifted, a cloud of smoke descended over the city with the scent of raw destruction. A scent I once enjoyed now sets my nerves on edge.

In the past few weeks in other communities, people I know have encountered days of flooding and killer tornadoes—events with a signature of scents, sounds, and textures that will always remind them of the events they've just endured.

No wonder, then, that the most powerful writing uses sensory imagery beyond the visual.

I reflect on a novel I just trudged through—largely because new examples of British naval fiction in the age of sail are so scarce. The author was careful to get the nautical details right. Each time a ship changed course, the crew reset the sails. He gave me the statistics of the ships and their crews. But he failed to convey a true sense of place.

Through hundreds of pages I never smelled salt air, or gunpowder, or an infected wound in the overcrowded sickbay. I never tasted salt pork, weevil-filled ship's biscuit, or a glistening, gelatinous pudding. I never felt a freshly holystoned deck or listened to a battered fiddle screech out a shanty.

And I never really connected with the story.

Maybe I'm just unusually attentive to sensory details. But I don't think so. When I read your story I hope I can hear it, smell it, taste it, and feel it.


Davalyn Spencer said...

I am going to quote you on my writer's wall: When I read your story I hope I can hear it, smell it, taste it, and feel it.
Great post.

Audrey said...

I agree with Davalyn. That last sentence says it all!

Andy Scheer said...

Thanks. I see those as most helpful elements to being able to feel the story emotionally.

Anonymous said...

A great reminder. I am guilty of only thinking of the visual descriptions and a few sounds.