Before you think I’m about to make a disturbing confession, let me say I am speaking of the senses. Touch, smell, taste, sight, and sound, I love them all. Now, I don’t claim to be an expert in the art of crafting a story and I think the day that I do is the day I stop learning. But nothing can bring more perception to the reader and to the world we are creating better than the senses.
When I smell cinnamon and spice, I think of Christmas and all that comes with the holiday season. Cold weather, a limited number of shopping days, baking, decorating, family gatherings, and gift giving, all rolled up into one heavenly scent. But that might just be me. For you, that same fragrance might remind you of your Great Uncle Phil and the air freshener he sprayed upon leaving the bathroom after a 30 minute hiatus with the newspaper and the swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated. And for that, I am truly sorry.
Not everyone has had the same experiences or been moved to tears by the same music. But when our senses are stimulated, we become a part of the story and we can travel to places we’ve never been. Even if we’ve never been near the ocean, we can imagine how the salty air might taste on our lips. We can feel the gritty sand polishing our bare feet as we walk along the beach, hear seagulls squawking in the distance, and see the sun melting into the water like an orange Dreamsicle on a hot summer day.
In movies, the background music or film score tells us how to feel: fast-paced and edgy for a fight or flight scene, soft or whimsical for a love scene. And when the orchestra of music dies down to one single instrument, and then slowly rises with intensity, we know for sure it’s time to curl into ourselves and hold our breath because “the bad guy” is about to rear his ugly head.
In writing, we don’t have the luxury of awesome sound effects and music. Therefore, it’s up to the author to get the reader’s heart pounding when the main character finds herself lost in a creepy forest, on a dark and stormy night, heading towards the rushing sound she can hear in the distance, hoping she stumbles upon the highway and not the 50 foot waterfall she spotted from the helicopter just before it crashed–she can still smell the burning fuel. She covers her mouth to filter the air from the heavy smoke and warm thick liquid oozes from her lip. The taste of rusted metal and copper pennies trickles down her throat and she gasps—blood. **insert dramatic music here**