Friday, February 13, 2009

Creating Super Settings with the Five Senses

Creating Super Settings with the Five Senses
By Bev Walton-Porter

Like a play or a television show, stories need characters, but they also need a sense of place.

Similar to a decorated set in a play, your story must provide a backdrop for your characters to use as a stage to move the story's plot forward. The easiest way to build realistic settings is to use all of the five senses: tasting, touching, smelling, seeing and hearing.

What's the most important sense when it comes to hooking your reader? Smell. To deliver a tale which reminds your audience of home and family, nothing works better than weaving in the familiar scent of homemade bread or chocolate chip cookies straight from grandma's kitchen. What does the spicy hint of pumpkin pie in the air make you remember? Most often, it's Thanksgiving, right? Bring those familiar smells into your stories and snag your reader's imagination. It's as easy as allowing them to follow their noses!

Touch is also important. When your character comforts a much-loved family pet, let the reader feel the soft, downy fur coat through his or her fingers. If you are writing a historical piece, readers can sense the roughness of peasant's clothing simply by your character rubbing his hands nervously against his work-worn trousers.

Show, don't tell, is a writing rule often repeated. By showing, not telling, your reader sees through your characters' eyes instead of having a story read to them. Place yourself in the story and pretend you are the star. What do you see? What do you notice about the room surrounding you? Whatever is in your mind's eye, you must allow your reader to experience, also.

What was that?! Did you hear something? If you don't bring noises to your reader's attention, he won't hear a thing. Does your story take place in a mall? What does a mall sound like? Let the reader hear the hustle and bustle of shoppers during the holiday season: People chattering, babies crying and elderly people shuffling by as they grumble about the high prices of today. Wherever you choose to people your story, make your story more peopled and real by sharing the sounds your readers know best.

Yech, that magic potion tasted awful! But how does your reader know if it's bitter or sweet? If John sneaks a forbidden taste of pie without realizing Freddy used too much salt, how will the reader wince in disgust? Once again, you must share the sense of taste in through your words. How does food that has too much salt taste—bitter, biting or just plain burning on your tongue? Go back to when you experienced that distasteful moment and translate it into words your readers can sink their teeth into.

Once you frame your stories using the five senses, you'll find your scenes coming to life. Your characters will take on new layers of reality. And that's what writers do best – deliver stories to readers while making them as real as possible.

Bev Sninchak (writing as Bev Walton-Porter and Star Ferris) is a professional writer/author who has published hundreds of stories on a wide variety of subjects and written four books: “Sun Signs for Writers,” “Mending Fences,” and “The Complete Writer: A Guide to Tapping Your Full Potential,” co-authored with three other writers. Her fourth book, “Hidden Fire,” is due out in 2009 from Whiskey Creek Press.

Bev also works as a contract editor, writing instructor and creativity coach. She has edited and published the award-winning e-zine for writers, Scribe & Quill, for the past eleven years. She is a member of The Authors Guild as well as the co-founder of the International Order of Horror Professionals.

Please visit her Web site at:
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