Wednesday, November 10, 2010

That Makes Sense

Last month I wrote a post about lyrical language and many of you had great comments. Thanks so much! Jan Greenberg mentioned the role of sensory words in creating lyrical prose, and I couldn’t agree more. In fact, for today’s post, I’ve decided to highlight some of my favorite examples of writing that is enriched by sensory details.

Sensory details can really bring a piece of prose to life. Why is appealing to the five senses so powerful? Because they are how we experience and interpret the real, 3-D word we encounter every day.

Sights, sounds, and especially smells can instantly transport our minds to a specific time and place, an event from 10, 20, 30 or more years ago. They can also transport us to a time and place described in a book. Consider the following examples. Two are from adult books and one is from a book written by one of my fellow I.N.K. bloggers.

From Gorillas in the Mist by Dian Fossey
“Sound preceded sight. Odor preceded sound in the form of an overwhelming musky-barnyard, humanlike scent. [Then we heard] a high-pitched series of screams followed by a rhythmic rondo of sharp pok-pok chestbeats . . . The three of us froze until the echoes of the screams and chestbeats faded. Only then did we creep forward under the cover of the dense shrubbery to about 50 feet from the group. Peeking through the vegetation, we could [see] . . . furry-headed [gorillas] peering back at us.”

From The Outermost House by Henry Beston
“I like a good smell—the smell of a freshly plowed field on a warm morning after a night of April rain, . . . the morning perfumes of lilacs showery with dew, the good reek of hot salt grass and low tide blowing from these meadows on summer afternoons.”
From Army Ant Parade by April Pulley Sayre
Chew-chew-chew an antbird calls. Shapes flit.
A grasshopper thumps onto a trunk.
Thwap, pip, pop. Insects leap up, jump up, fly up!
Scorpions scurry.
Frogs are hopping. Tarantulas are scurrying.
Ants are slithering away.
The army ants are waking. . .
And they’re coming right this way!

See how the sensory details in these pieces allow you to draw on your past experiences of the world, and in so doing, help take you to the place the author is describing? Appealing to the senses can be very powerful.

Can you think of other books that make good use of sensory details?

1 comment:

joy said...

I'm new to this blog from the UK but am really enjoying the books menitoned here. I love Think of an Eel by Karen Wallace and Mike Bostock and one of my all time favourites is A Drove of Bullocks by PatrickGeorge. Both are great literary non-fiction.