Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Build Your Ambiance With Sensory

Using the senses to ramp up your prose works well. Sometimes the simplest showing can replace much telling.

'Jack walked into Mama's house, and the smell of freshly baked cinnamon raisin bread took him back to his youth.' In one sentence, we've learned that Mama bakes, has baked, and probably always will bake cinnamon raisin bread. We get into Jack's head too. He smells and remembers his youth. He loves his mother. He's experiencing good feelings as he enters the house. It makes no difference if Mama's apron is green or red flowers with ruffles, we will fill in the blanks ourselves. Unless the writer needed to tell us her hair color and other details, we create our own Mama.
'Obsession by Calvin Klein announced Charlotte's entrance.' We know she bathes in the stuff. Based on that, we can fill in a lot of blanks. She's older and struggling to remain younger. Let's change her perfume to 'Britney Spears Women's Fantasy.' Suddenly our character is twenty years younger.

'Travis bit into the Whopper, chewing carefully. How did the man know it was his favorite candy?' Travis isn't a risk taker. He's unsure about the man. And you're playing dark music in your head when you read this, right?
Speaking of music, it helps to both create a scene and can validate a time.
'Kathy walked into the joint while the Beatles sang "She loves you."' Careful here. It could be the sixties, but unless you created something else, it could be just about any time. If you gave her straight hair that hung into her eyes, had her chewing Juicy Fruit gum and wearing a surfer shirt, you've established the time.
With your artistic license, you can change it up too. Have your mechanic listen to Tchaikovsky, the attorney wear a rough burlap shirt to cut loose on weekends.

'Peter stopped the car and peered at the endless desert,the waves of heat distorting the vision.' You see the stark landscape, feel the heat and solitude.
Just like a bit of cinnamon and raisins can spice up Mama's homemade bread, a few sensory phrases or sentences can spice up (pun intended) your prose.
I need to get some butter on that bread right away.

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  1. Good points - and seeing that raisin bread in the morning had me desperately trying to figure out how to get some without having to brave the -10 temps.

  2. Thanks for the helpful tips. Adding sensory details does rev up your writing. I shared this!

  3. I definitely need to do more of that.Thanks for the reminder.