Friday, March 25, 2011

The Sensuous Story


It's a word that conjures up a constellation of images, ideas, thoughts, memories and feelings. It's a word that describes some of the most powerful moments of life: falling in love, a wedding, the birth of a child, etc.

It's also a word that describes bestselling fiction.

Does it describe your story?

Check out this opening paragraph from Dean Koontz's novel, Frankenstein: Lost Souls:

"The October wind came down from the stars. With the hiss of an artist's airbrush, it seemed to blow the pale moonlight like a mist of paint across the slate roofs of the church and abbey, across the higher windows, and down the limestone walls."

If you're like me, descriptions like that set off explosions of sensory delight in your head. The words expertly draw you into the story through the doorway of your senses.

How to Become a Sensuous Writer

You, too, can write with such poetic magic. Part of Koontz's blockbuster success is owed to his ability to engage the reader's senses.

In that short excerpt above, Koontz managed to activate three of the five senses (i.e. sight, sound, touch, taste and smell).

Sight = stars, airbrush, pale moonlight, mist of paint, slate roof, limestone walls, high windows

Sound = hiss

Touch = blow...across the slate roofs, across the high windows, etc.

You become a sensuous writer by imitating Koontz, by tapping into the senses in every scene of your story. Stephen King has suggested that aspiring writers include three sensory details in each scene to ground readers in the sensory experience of the story.

The Sensory Cheat-Sheet

Sight: colors (yellow, blue, red, green, turquoise, brown, black, white, etc), rough, smooth, flat, bumpy, jagged, rugged, tough, flimsy, tall, short, fat, thin, massive, tiny, twisted, ropey, damaged, bubbly, calm, etc.

Sound: beep, clink, clatter, chirp, bam, bang, clang, chatter, fluid, smooth, jazzy, screech, scream, whisper, melodic, angelic, floating, pop, etc.

Touch: harsh, cold, hot, warm, soft, hard, blow, brush, slam, jam, scrape, scratch, move, deliberate, clumsy, loving, tender, brackish, sexy, spongy, etc.

Smell: moldy, nasty, sweet, gross, delicious, sexy, fresh, overpowering, overwhelming, hint of..., etc

Taste: chewy, soft, hard, slippery, salty, spicy, hot, cold, warm, delicious, gross, sweet, crunchy, stale, etc.

More Tips on Sensuous Writing

1. Use a thesaurus: don't settle for the first word that comes to mind. Be unique and come up with a fresh new way to immerse readers into your story world.
2. Combine two or three senses into a single paragraph, or even a single sentence, as Koontz does in the above excerpt.
3. Spend five minutes a day listening and paying attention to and recording the everyday sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and "touches" around you. Use them in your stories. Take a notebook or recording device with you.
4. Transfer the information on the notebook or recording device to your computer. Create a file of sounds, sights, tastes, etc.
5. Review your "sensory" file often as you write and edit your stories. Your file may spark new and surprising ways to lure readers into the sensory world of your fiction.

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