Using all of the senses in your writing

By coincidence, I came across this article, which offers some useful advice (albeit slightly tongue in cheek) about the silly mistakes that writers make with their early stories:

I say by coincidence, as the article’s author Bill Ferris mentions using all of the senses. I was faced with writing a scene in my new novel that night, which is set at a garage fire where the owner has apparently died through carelessly smoking around a leaking welding gas cylinder. This incident is actually a crime committed by the psychopath retired detective who appears in the next novel in the series.

Describing the scene of the burned down car workshop, I knew that it needed some extra punch apart from saying how the dead owner’s legs looked like large sticks of charcoal. I recalled an incident from my days as a housing officer when I was a callow twenty-something. I thought that I knew it all, but I plainly didn’t. I accompanied a senior housing inspector to check a flat where there’d been a fire, which killed the elderly tenant. He had to authorise the repair work needed, and as we looked around I was puzzled by the strange black strips hanging from the ceiling beneath the seat of the fire, as well as the acrid smell. I was informed that both were what was left of the tenant, with remnants of flesh flying upwards, adhering to wherever they touched and providing a background smell of burnt barbecue!

I managed not to throw up, but this experience at least came in useful forty years later to describe something that most people don’t think about. Our sense of smell is one of the most evocative for making a memory, and my fictional scene of death was enhanced by adding a few details about the scent in the air, as well as the repellent taste in the back of the mouth of the detectives.

These days, I always go back through my work in progress, to see if descriptions can be improved by adding to how the protagonists sense things.

FOOTNOTE: That burnt-out flat took a couple of months to renovate, needing a complete replastering, not just to repair the damage, but to remove the smell of burning. It took even longer to rent out again, as no local people on the housing waiting list wanted to live in a place where an old lady had burned to death. It was eventually rented to a couple who moved to the area from hundreds of miles away.

Image result for smell of books cartoon

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