#SENSE AND SENSIBILITY
Reading is a sensual experience. So use the senses to connect with the reader’s physicality.
Consider the following questions:
You are in a store, checking out backpacks. You are looking for a leather one. How do you go about checking whether the item is made of leather or man-made materials?
You are riding in a cab. A nostalgic, sad song is playing, followed by one with an upbeat rhythm and a sexual pulse. How would the music affect your mood?
When you are in an art gallery, in what manner do you look at the paintings?
Do you enjoy petting furry animals (allergies aside)?
You are given a bouquet of flowers. Your first reaction would be…
You are a completely alone on a private island and there is a crystal-clear lake. It’s hot and you could use a swim. You …
You have set out to furnish your living room. What would best describe the type of furniture that you choose?
Whatever you write, think consciously about the physical words you use.
Sight: What do we see when we see? We see brightness, color, shapes, texture, and proportions. We see relation- ships between things.
Often, when I am working on research or a draft, I need to visualize what I’m thinking before I understand it. So I draw pictures—shapes showing relationships, levels of importance, movement, and more.
If you can get your reader to see your subject, you have won the battle. It’s as if you’re side by side, look- ing at a painting in a museum, like Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks.” See those lonely people in the diner? It’s late. Nothing’s happening outside. Everyone looks so alone. But the couple—they’re together, right? Are they on a date or just getting a smack after a long night at work. They don’t look intimate. The soda jerk is paying attention, though. What about that man at the end of the diner? He’s really alone. Once you start to see the pictures, you start to tell the story—and interpret what it means.
Also give your writing color. The colors’ many qualities—primary or secondary, dark or bright, simple or complex—contribute to a mood. In music, color describes a piece’s emotional feel. Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony evokes darkness, while his Fourth evokes brightness.
Colors also conjure emotions. Red evokes power and sexuality, yellow intelligence and joy, blue tranquility.
How do you feel about things like the smell of a spring breeze, the air shortly after rain, a brisk winter wind, the ocean, or a sunny day?
How often do you engage in meditation or deep breathing exercises?
When walking down the beach, do you take off your shoes or sandals?
When you read a novel, do you picture the scenes in your head as you’re reading them?
These questions are part of a sensuality test that Psychology Today posts on its website. (Take it yourself at http://bit.do/sensualitytest.) The test helps you to under- stand just how physically you experience the world with your senses of sight, sound, touch, and smell.
My purpose here is to get you to write physically. Even when exploring dry and abstract topics, I want you to think sensually. When you do, you can connect with your reader—capture her attention, hold it, get it to consider your ideas wholeheartedly, and remember and reflect what you want to convey.
Language, I submit, is a physical experience. When you use language well, you can make your audience con- nect with the topic physically. A description of cold cre- ates a shiver; of music, a sense of rhythm and time’s pac- ing and feel; of texture, a tactile feeling of smoothness or roughness or slipperiness or more; of light or shapes, a sense of appearance.
Sound makes us pause, lean in, and listen. Sound makes us attentive. Think of the times in your life when you stopped doing something … because … you heard something. “What’s that?” you asked. You could not con- tinue until you learned something about the sound. You needed to find out whether it mattered.
The power of language is really the power of sound. Alliteration—the repetition of the same consonant sounds—somehow evokes meaning. S’s sometimes sound slithery, sometimes soft, and sometimes hissing. K’s sound hard and abrupt, almost like a collision or an attack. L’s sound lilting and lithesome, light and uplift- ing. P’s sounds somewhat silly, plopping and plunking and puffing along. We could go on.
Don’t think too hard. Just listen to the sounds you write and pay attention to how they make you feel. You’ll know when there’s a fit and when there’s not. Now look at these images: blue is patience but also coldness and depression, orange – courage and confidence, endurance and friendliness, and green money and nature.
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