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Emotion; The Writer's Sixth Sense

Why would I describe my heavy oak chair as obstinate?

After all how can an inanimate object be obstinate?
Yet I believe you all know why. It is heavy, dark, difficult to move and unyielding. I feel it is obstinate, of course it isn’t, it is only a chair.
The other week Natalie Allan popped a post up called “Writerly Thoughts…“ and I got all lyrical over it. The post was about embracing and feeling the world around you, soaking up the sensations presented to you on a daily basis.
She is absolutely right in her post, when she says, “Because how can you describe the beauty your characters are surrounded by if you never see these things for yourself?”. I would like to add that apart from our five normal senses there is a sixth sense that we must nurture and it is to do with why my chair is obstinate.
We all know of the five senses and that we should use them in our work, namely sight, smell, taste, sound and touch. Read any book on writing technique and at some point it will tell you to use all five of the senses to fill out your work and give it a multi-sensual richness. Let us have a brief look at these five enhancers of our work.
Sight: An apple can be a healthy red or a toadstool may be an evil crimson.
Smell: A girl could be wearing a delightful fragrance or an overwhelming perfume
Taste: A sample of food might have an appealing tartness or an unpleasant sourness on the tongue.
Sound: A concert may have a wondrous crescendo at the end or finish in a noisy climax.
Touch: A surface can be sensuously silky smooth or be treacherously icy smooth.
You will have noticed that for each sense the chosen perception was similar, red – crimson, tart – sour, but what made them significantly different was the emotional modifier preceding the perception.
Recently I had the pleasure to attend a reading by Iain M Banks, who during his talk spoke in his low soft Scottish brogue some words that shook me to the core more than if he had shouted them. He was relating another author’s words and they went something like this.
“There are many talented authors out there who could describe a chair and of sitting in it, in brilliant clarity. I however, have a gift, in that if I described sitting in that chair, then the reader would feel the experience of themselves actually sitting in that chair.”
Going over and over the words I have come to the conclusion that the other author’s gift revolved around the two words “feel” and “experience”. To take it from a simple description to one that invokes feelings, he must trigger in his reader the emotions of the moment.
If introducing the five senses into our writing builds richness, then including emotions alongside them adds nothing more than magic.
I ask you now to walk outside and as you do so feel your emotions, sense your feelings, your feelings about everything.
Your feelings towards my impudence in asking you to do this, over the transition of balance from securely sitting to safely standing, during the insecurity as you pass across the threshold of the door, your emotions as you stand in the wind, rain, sun, moonlight.
As you live your life look inside yourself, feel how the world around you swells your heart or rallies your fears, for emotion is truly the writer’s sixth sense and one of our greatest tools.

Photo: PhotoShop Apple, cc Medhi
Photo: Baby Toadstool, cc Photogirl7

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6 comments to Emotion; The Writer’s Sixth Sense

  • Father Faceless

    Splendidly put, Mr Shack. Reminds me of a blog post I read somewhere called “Smell my words” or something, though yours is more descriptive.

    One of the things I have begun noticing recently is exactly this – that extra word or turn of a phrase in a description that ‘solidifes’ the object, instead of leaving it vague and floaty. It’s a real art, and one it takes a lot of awareness to cultivate.

    Not an easy task. :(

  • Andy Shackcloth

    Thanks for the kind words.
    Picking up on your reference to “smell”, it is probably the sense that is the most powerful in bringing back memories and emotions. I think we all know the emotions raised by the smells from oven fresh bread, sizzling BBQ meats, decaying musty and dank locations.

    Have to be careful though, because for example frying bacon may not bring mouth watering anticipation to all the readers.

    As you said “Not an easy task.”

  • Kristy Colley

    Thanks for the post. I might recommend a great book by Jon Kabat-zinn, Coming to Our Senses regarding mindfulness. The quality of what I perceive has enhanced tenfold, and therefore enhanced what I can bring (emotionally) to my writing.
    I highly recommend!

  • Vicky

    Wow, so much useful insight here. I have to agree. As a reader, I want to feel and taste and experience as much as possible through the character. To flip that around and write to bring someone into that journey from a writer’s perspective is tricky, but yes, so essential.

  • Crystal Posey

    Good post. Thank you for sharing this, and the link to Natalie Allan’s post.

  • Andy Shackcloth

    Kristy, Thanks for the info about Jon, I have ordered a copy

    Amazon link to book info (I am not affiliated with Amazon)

    This next link is to YouTube “Jon Kabat-Zinn speaks at UCSD Medical Center on the topic of ‘Coming to Our Senses’ ” it is 57 minutes long. listen carefully.

    Vicky, My thoughts on “through the character”, I think when someone does it well then you cannot stop becoming the character. Which is why some books just can’t be put down.

    Crystal, Thanks for visiting and taking the time to comment, good luck with your indulged hobby.