I was going to title today’s blog post, “Toucha toucha touch me” but decided against planting the ear worm in the heads of any Rocky Horror fans (sorry- just did it anyway ;)) and figured it might indicate the wrong type of touch for this current post ;).
I’ve decided that I’d like to take a few posts and look at the senses and how they get used, abused, or abandoned in our writing. Please join in and add your comments and views J.
The most basic way we communicate and learn isn’t language, it’s our senses. We start off using them as babies when the world of language is still in the “too be coming” phase. Adding senses to our writing makes it more real for the reader. The reader may not stop and say, “well that writer didn’t use enough of the senses, I don’t believe that book”. But they may say that they didn’t connect with the book or the characters—one warning sign that you might not be coming across as authentic as you could be. Your people weren’t as well rounded as they should be and the reader noticed it. Even if it’s not as jump up and grab you by the hair as some other writer mistakes it can still stop a reader in their tracks.
Sight and sound are probably the two most basic of senses, and ones most writers manage to toss in there (but please- no “roaming eyes”…makes me think of a horror movie ;)).
But what about the other senses?
Everyone relies on touch one way or another. When we’re little we use it to build our view of the world. Later we use it to convey things like comfort, friendship, and anger.
In writing we can use it to express our character’s personality and world views. Does your character always hold their arm? Fold their arms in front of them? Rub the side of their face when lying? Do they have any other physical tics of self touch (no, not that kind) that indicate who they are and their mood? How does your character feel about their body? That can be mined for physical reactions that can expose internal feelings of the character without going all info-dump on the reader's head.
Touching items can also be an interesting way to give a break between dialogue or other actions. Does your character find comfort in running their hands across silk? Lost in thought they rub a worry stone? These would be little touches, tiny things that aren’t major actions in themselves, and should be subtle, but also manage to add to the entire world were writing.
Touch can indicate a disorder, someone who has to touch every mail box he sees but exhibits no other signs of OCD for example. There may be a very good reason your character hates to be hugged by anyone—even their lover. Or why someone always hugs their friends good-bye.
Touch is a vital way for characters to communicate with each other, but also to communicate to the reader.