Workshop: The Lost Sense
By Lazette Gifford
© 2007, Lazette
Andrea walked home from school on the cool November afternoon. Above
her, geese flew, their arrow formation heading southward through a
cornflower blue sky dotted with fleecy white clouds. Dead leaves,
yellow and brown, crunched loudly beneath her feet, marking her
passage with the snap of each step.
She rolled a small piece of peppermint candy across her tongue -- the
taste sharp and sweet -- and reminding her of the holidays to
come. She wished time would pass faster. Grandma and Grandpa
would be home for the holidays. She couldn't wait.
The scent of wood smoke hung in the air as she neared home. She kicked at
more fallen leaves and then raced the rest of the way to the small
house at the end of the street.
As humans, we perceive the world in five
senses, but often there is one or two of our senses that get lost in our
writing. Sight, sound and scent are prevalent in most works. Taste
comes in sometimes... but touch is often forgotten in common scenes.
And yet we feel everything, all the time
-- from the brush of soft clothing to the press of fingers against
slick, cool keyboard keys. We are mostly unaware of our sense of touch
until something unusual draws us to it: unexpectedly cold bath water,
ruffled fur on a cat's back, sticky candy left to melt in a coat pocket.
This lost sense can add something
special to your story -- the right 'touch' at the right time, so to
speak. However, in order to use the sense of touch in your story, you
have to be more aware of it in your own world.
Step # 1
Reach out with your hand and touch three
different things. What makes them feel alike? What makes them feel
different? What words come the quickest to you?
Zaphod the cat has what we call rabbit
fur around here -- softer and silkier than most cat pelts. Beside him
sits a white teddy bear with uneven fur that feels like brushed cotton,
while the red bow around his neck looks silken, but feels like a finely
woven rough net.
Because touch is so constantly with us,
it goes unnoticed until we find that extraordinary moment -- the
vibration of the ground when a train is passing nearby, for instance.
And this is how it should be for your characters as well. Too much
tactile description feels unnatural to the reader, and should only be
used often if you are painting an extraordinary character for whom touch
means more than it does to the normal person.
We notice touch mostly in the moment
when it presents change from the norm. Warm tea on a cold day combines
both taste and touch... but how often do we hold the cup for warmth,
breathe in the scent of the tea, and only taste it at the last?
Most often we also think of touch in
terms of antonyms:
Step # 2
Write a scene contrasting two forms of
touch -- either from the list above or some other combination you can
come up with. Find at least two different words for each 'touch' that
further defines the experience.
She poured tea into the cup on the tray
and handed it to him. The cup felt startling cold at first, but in
moments the fragrant tea began to warm the fragile porcelain, changing
it from icy cold to pleasantly warm, and off-setting the chill of the
The addition of these new descriptions
can be subtle, electrifying or sensual. It can blend into another sense
descriptions or stand out on its own.
Many stories can benefit from a bit of
tactile description. Try looking through one or two scenes of our
own and see if you can't find somewhere to add a few extra 'touches' to
bring out a new layer in description.
Find something of your own where you can
add a little bit of tactile description and create more description and
depth for a scene.
The trees became shadows again. He
found it far more difficult to stay connected to the world when
everything shifted to shades of black and grey. He wanted the green
back, and blessed the little flying flowers moving across his blurred
vision, drawing him back from wherever his mind tried to wander. He
gently brushed his hands against the slick damp bark of every tree that
came within reach, welcoming the solid reality as another
tangible link to the real world.
Keep the idea of touch in mind while you
write and look for ways to describe the world around your characters
using this extra sense. Just remember, like in the real world,
characters are not going to be constantly aware of everything they brush
up against or touch. Reserve this sense for the moment of something
extraordinary -- the first touch of a human hand against an alien plant,
something unexpected felt in the dark