Sunday, December 1, 2019

2019 December - Sensory Perceptions

Sensory Perceptions

This is Part 12 of a 12-part series dealing with Story Settings
 ◆ © 2019 All Rights Reserved

Ah, the five basic senses— sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. These are also the basic sensory perceptions needed to help show, not tell, a story.

But what exactly is a sensory perception when it comes to storytelling? 

Technically, a sensory perception is the neurophysiological process of perceiving stimuli and reacting to it. What those big words mean is that people use the various senses to gain a better understanding of the world around them in order to act or react to what's going on. 

Keep in mind that reactions may be positive, negative, neutral, or ignored. For instance— 

A positive sight reaction might be: seeing Christmas cookies and recalling how good your grandmother's or mother's sugar cookies were.

A negative sound reaction might be: hear a diamondback rattle snake's rattle nets terror (and with good reason— because that's a poisonous snake)

A neutral reaction might be: the taste of potatoes or other everyday foods which may not require any reaction. However, if there were jalapenos in said potatoes, there would be a different taste and a far different reaction depending on the heat level.

An ignored sensory perception might be the touch of a breeze that is neither warm nor cold or worthy of a reaction. Yet, the breeze is subtle enough to note the type of day it is or the season of the year.

Each of the above reactions can work in a story, too. 

Look at your draft for setting elements of sound, smell, touch, taste, and sight. Ask: can that element trigger the focal character to recall something important or react like a human being should?  Is the resulting action important to the development of the drama and plot? Doing so is a far better way to show, not tell. 

Now, which of the five sensory perceptions do you think writers chronically overuse? 

If you said "sight," you would be correct. Initial drafts of stories are often "sight-heavy," but those of most novice writers are ponderously sight-heavy, especially with descriptions of the setting or story world. 

Is there a way to check for sight-heaviness or sensory perceptions? Yes, there is. You can check your work by using four differently colored highlighters. For a good look at your sensor usage level, pick ten pages, which is about 3,000 words. Then, one by one, using a different color for each round, go through the pages and mark the words or passages pertaining to sound, smell, touch, and taste. 

But what about the fifth sense—sight? Technically what is left on the page will be what is seen and described or which is dialogue (both spoken and internal). 

When done, what do you see? Do you have huge blocks of "sight?" Do you have a mix of colors? Is one sensory perception missing or rarely used?

Ideally, you would have a mix of perceptions—and a character responding to the various sensory input.

If you do this exercise, leave a comment and let me know what you discovered.


Congratulations to all who participated in and finished NaNoWriMo!

The next step is rewrites and revising but you can make that a far easier task by using this little guidebook 

and when you're ready to market your story, be sure you can pitch it successfully by taking this Feb. 1-29, 2020 online course hosted by Pennwriters — Details are HERE

*********Next month begins a new series for this blog on Job Titles for Story Characters.

Happy Holidays!