originally written on December 2, 2007
Last week I had the privledge of hearing Chris Ransick speak at a Colorado Author's League luncheon. Chris is Denver's poet Laureate and it is clear why, once you hear him speak and hear him read some of his work. He talked all about the importance of engaging our readers through the five senses, because it is through our senses that we experience life and give meaning to it.
Think about it-Imagine if you close your eyes and someone holds a fresh cut orange under your nose. You inhale the sweet, citrus aroma and then your brain combines the smell with your life experiences and tells you that it is an orange you are smelling. It is through our senses we live our life, so why not include them in our writing as well?
I always knew how important it was to include the five senses into anything I wrote, but after hearing Chris, I started paying more attention to my sensory experiences in my everyday life to then see how I could connect it to my writing. I found that the more senses I used, the more engaged I was in the experience.
Yesterday, I decided to get out my Christmas decorations and don the house in holiday splendor. After dragging all the plastic tubs out of the dusty crawl space, I put on my Christmas music, lit a pine scented candle and poured myself a glass of freshly chilled Pinot Grigio. As I began unpacking all the treasures, the smell of pine started filling up the air, I started singing along with the Christmas songs and with each item I took out, wonderful memories of Christmas' past flooded my mind.
When it was all done and I sat down to relax, it hit me and it became crystal clear what Chris was talking about. As I decorated the house, I was completely engaged in the the moment. I wasn't thinking about bills that had to be paid, articles that were due in a couple of days, the laundry, all the presents I still needed to buy--all of that had disappeared.
We need to do the same thing with our writing-whether you write fiction, non-fiction, poetry, whatever, you must engage your reader through their senses, the more the better, without forcing it. If the reader is completely engrossed in what he/she is reading, the rest of the world temporarily fades away for them. They are completely engaged and you have now created an experience for them, not just a piece of writing. And people remember experiences.
Next time you sit down to write, activate some of your senses before diving in-light a candle, get a cup of tea, put on some music, then start writing. By being in the moment and enjoying the experience, you will be able to pass on those feelings to your readers.