Exercises to Build Your "Good Writing" Muscles Help
Practice with Sensory Images
To build convincing and engaging experience on the page, to make their created worlds vivid, writers employ all five senses in their writing, rather than summarize or editorialize. Using images from childhood speeds the process of learning to use sensory information in writing because our senses store what we remember from childhood, since we didn't "cerebralize" what we experienced at that time. That's the kind of memory we have to cultivate as writers.
To get started encouraging the use of the five senses in your writing, think of an image from your childhood, an object you saw and could touch like rubber boots, a backyard puddle, the couch in your living room, the fur of a pet, or the wooden chairs at the kitchen table. Now, write a paragraph about this object using five sentences, one sentence to capture the way you experienced this object with each of the senses. Sight: What color and shape was the object? Touch: What was the object's texture and temperature when you touched it? Was it hot or cold, warm or room temperature? Did it make your arm itch? Was it furry or rough? Smell: What did the object (or being near it) smell like? Perhaps the smell is coming from the next room—cookies baking while you sit on the couch watching your favorite TV program. Sound: What is the sound you remember? Did the boots squeak when you pulled them on? Was the telephone ringing as you tied the laces? Was there something some one always said when you were with this object? Taste: If you were putting the boots on, did you hold a wool mitten in your mouth until you were done? Was there something you'd just finished eating, the taste of which lingered for you? Did the air have a taste?
Your job is to create an experience of this object so that you, as well as anyone reading what you have written, is transported to the place and time you are writing about.
Caroline Arnold, author of more than 140 books for children, suggests her students choose an object, place, person, or animal, and write five sentences about it, one sentence (or two) for each sense—sight, sound, touch, taste and smell. Examples of how she does this simply in her children's books, A Walrus' World and A Killer Whale's World, are:
- Sight: The baby walrus' plump body is covered with short fur.
- Smell: The mother walrus sniffs her baby and rubs his back with her whiskers.
- Sound: Splash! He tumbles into the water. Splash! His mother dives in too.
- Touch: Using her whiskers, she feels a clam. Then she grabs the shell with her lips and sucks out the meat.
- Taste: Their sleek bodies slide through the cool, salty water.
Whether your descriptions are simple or complex, "The important thing," Arnold says, "is to immerse yourself in the scene and use all your senses to convey the essence of that scene to your reader. To find out if you are using sensory descriptions in your writing, go through one of your stories with a highlighter, and mark each time you use one of your senses. Note which sense you use most often."
Now that you've shown that you can stick to your senses, let's work further on employing them in writing.
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