Welcome all dreamers, fantasists, bibliophiles, and romantics. Join me Mondays and Fridays for speculation about other worlds, exploration of the human heart and soul in fiction and fact, sojourns in history and science, advice and tidbits in the realms of story, and thoughts on everything in between...

Friday, October 7, 2011

9 Unusual Sensory Details to Mention in Your Writing

When describing a character’s perceptions of his environment, most people stick with the obvious: colors, architecture, dress, perhaps the smell of food, or the weather. But there are a few sensory details that don’t automatically come to mind but can enrich a story. From my personal experiences, with a few senses sharpened by my poor vision, I offer a few suggestions:

1.      Heat and cold have a smell. Certainly, other scents add complexity like the type of wood burning on a fire or the dry dusty stale scent of a summer day during drought. But heat and cold have their own unique aromas.

2.      The flavor of water varies from type to type. My husband had difficulty with this one when we dated and the first few years of our marriage. He gaped at the fact that I would only drink two brands of water, Ozarka and Dasani. Unless I bordered dehydration, I wouldn’t touch anything else. Since, I’ve expanded that list by one brand, Fiji.

3.      If you close your eyes and practice a little, you can feel the pressure of nearby objects. Perhaps it’s the alternation in the currents of air, but with a bit of practice and focus, doorways and hallways press their existence on your skin.

4.      I’m sure the chefs among you will know this one. Butter and margarine alter the flavor of foods. Light sour cream does not work as well or taste as rich in stroganoff as regular. And there is a very distinct taste and texture between whole milk, 2% milk, and skim milk. As a fan of milk, to me, skim milk just tastes like bad white water. No offense to the fans of skim milk.

5.      The material of a dish or utensil alters the flavor and experience of food and drink. I have an aunt from a country that eats just with their hands, who I believe would agree with this statement. She still prefers to eat with her hands rather than with a fork, as far as I know. For me, milk is best in glass, gold fish crackers are best in plastic or paper, pizza is best eaten with hands, and Chick-Fil-A lemon meringue pie isn’t quite the same without the plastic fork. Now, I suspect a lot of this is trained tastes based on childhood or initial experiences. Exploring such preferences could reveal some interesting possibilities for your characters. At the very least, do they twist open their Oreos or eat them whole?

6.      When a spider crawls on your neck, it feels much like the tickling of your child’s hair on your skin.

7.      I don’t know if this is true for everyone, but it certainly is for me. When I’m getting sick, the flavor of my mouth changes to a slight sourness. I usually notice this before I notice any other major symptoms. I don’t know why. Perhaps it’s whatever my body produces to fight off illness.

8.      Menstrual blood smells slightly different from normal blood.

9.      Any electronic device has a sound, a hum that reaches the barely perceivable ranges of hearing, but if you can hear them at all, they can hurt the ears. Even though, as I’ve grown older, I don’t hear them quite as well, or perhaps I’ve just grown used to it, I notice that I’m a little tenser when such technology is on, like on some level, I can still hear it. My husband can’t turn the volume all the way down on the TV and flip channels because it hurts my ears.

What things do you taste, smell, hear, or feel that aren’t commonly mentioned in books?

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