Characters seem more alive if they experience all five senses. Ray Bradbury masterfully demonstrated this concept in the following description of his character, Benjamin Driscoll, from The Martian Chronicles:
"He awoke to a tap on his brow. Water ran down his nose into his lips. Another drop hit his eye, blurring it. Another splashed on his chin. The rain. Raw, gentle, and easy, it muzzled out of the high air, a special elixir, tasting of spells and stars and air, carrying a peppery dust in it, and moving like a rare light sherry on his tongue."
Isn't that a marvelous description?
If I had written the same scenario, it would probably have been as follows:
"When he awoke, a gentle but steady rain was falling on his head. Drops fell in his eyes and on his chin from far above. He opened his mouth and caught the drops on his tongue as they cascaded to the ground."
My version probably isn't bad, but I'd rather read Ray Bradbury's description any day. You don't just visualize his description. You experience it!
Let's analyze some more examples:
For instance, I wish to convey the following scenario. My first attempt comes quite naturally as:
"The rain finally stopped. She opened the window. It was hot and sticky so she shut it again quickly."
However, a better way to describe what happened, injecting the senses, is as follows:
"The rain finally stopped pounding on the metal gutter above the window. She opened it and winced. A blast of hot, damp air that smelled of earthworms enveloped her head. She quickly closed the window again to escape the unpleasant heat and overpowering stench."
See the difference?
Now your mind can not only visualize the scene, you can imagine the smell of the air and feel of the heat on your face, just as the character is experiencing it. In addition, the female character is even more believable because unlike a faceless robot mechanically opening the window, she winced -- a common human expression under unpleasant circumstances.
Let's try another scenario:
"He sat on the edge of his bed and stared at the door. He was angry at his parents for sending him to his room. He knew they'd all be eating without him soon and he was really hungry."
We can interject the senses and describe the scenario as follows:
"He glared at the door while sitting on the edge of his bed kicking his toy chest over and over. The aroma of roast beef, gravy and potatoes wafted through the room and he knew they'd be eating soon. As his stomach growled he thought to himself, "How dare they?"
Much better, right? Now it's your turn:
Go back over the last story, chapter, article, blog entry --whatever -- you wrote. Add in any or all of the five senses and note the difference. I bet you will be pleasantly surprised with the added depth of character you've created! Let me know in the comments section what you think of this exercise and how it worked for you.
As for me, I realize now that I've got a full house of characters in my cozy mystery to enliven with the senses! I am looking forward to it because I know it will make them all more believable.
Characters have to be believable before they can be unforgettable!
About This Blog:
The Found in the Jewelry Box Blog is my attempt to teach others about the wonderful world of gems and jewelry, past and present. Please enjoy!