This is a first in a three-part series by Jeanne Marie Leach. In this article she will be introducing us to some “senses” that aren’t commonly labeled as such, but that can add depth to our fiction.
The dictionary defines the “senses” as any of the faculties involving sight, hearing, smell, taste, or touch, by which humans perceive stimuli originating from outside or inside the body. These five senses are the ones everyone learns about in school, and writer’s groups remind you to be sure to utilize them all.
However, in the scientific world there is no solid consensus among neurologists regarding the actual number of senses because of differing definitions of what actually composes a sense. Humans are considered to have at least six additional senses that include:
- Balance and acceleration
- Temperature differences
- Muscle and joint motion
- Sense of time
After researching these further, I’ve come to the conclusion that these extra “senses” are a valuable part of descriptions used in fiction stories, so as a fiction author, keep these in mind. Most of them are usually mentioned naturally as the need arises in a story, but a couple of them could easily be overlooked. Using these senses will definitely enhance the word pictures you create and will deepen the characters.
I will focus on two of these “new” senses each week for three weeks.
Balance and acceleration
Balance or equilibrium is the sense which allows us to perceive body movement, direction, and acceleration, and to reach and maintain postural equilibrium and balance, gravitational force, head rotation, linear acceleration, and the direction of gravitational force.
There are times when balance and acceleration are both blatantly important to describe in your story, such as a skier going downhill. Without proper balance, this activity is impossible, so it is going to be a huge part of the imagery.
Then there are the more subtle times when these senses are used, and this is when good details will enhance your writing. For example: think about a person fleeing on foot from the police. They run around a city block. Everyone knows when a person has the momentum of running in a straight line, a sudden turn will throw off their balance. As a result, they will compensate for it by slowing down to make the turn, putting their arms out to maintain their balance, possibly stumbling, or grabbing hold of the building corner to keep themselves from falling over.
Just a quick mention of the sense of balance will take your description to a deeper level and give the reader a word picture that they’ll definitely “see” in their minds.
Thermoception is the sense of heat and cold by the skin. These are different from the thermoceptors in the brain which provide feedback on internal body temperature.
Think deeper when writing about temperature. Physiological reactions to hot and cold always occur. Instead of telling that there was a chill in the air, show the reader that the character shivered, or buttoned up their coat, or pulled their scarf across their neck to ward off the chill.
Another example: A character is hunkered down behind a tree in a dark alley, waiting to catch their spouse in a compromising position with another woman. She waits for over an hour for him to show up, and was unprepared for it to take so long. If only she’d worn her coat. She sat on the cold ground, her legs pulled up to her chest. The cold didn’t bother her at first, but then it slowly seeped through her sweater and whispered across her skin. Relentless, the cold seeped down to her bones, and she shivered. The prolonged wait became as much of a torture as the suspicion of her husband’s infidelity.
Join us next Thursday for Part 2 – Muscle/Joint Movement and Pain
Using Sensory Science for Deeper Descriptions Series
Part 3 – Sense of Time and Direction