Saturday, May 20, 2017

Using Sensory Description in Paranormal Romance

A frequent tip you'll hear in writing workshops, seminars, and blogs is to include the senses in your descriptions. One workshop I attended mentioned trying to include all 5 senses on every page. I took this to be a bit of an exaggeration, as that would be a LOT of description on every page. But it gives you a goal to shoot for so you remember to include sensory description as much as possible.

My personal rule of thumb is to attempt to get all 5 senses to show up in every five pages. This is actually much harder than it sounds, so let's dig into a little bit.


5 Commonly Learned Senses

Sight
Sight tends to be the easiest of the senses to remember because you can describe what the character is seeing in terms of surroundings, other people, gestures, or even what's inside their head. However, since this one is the easiest to include, don't forget to include little details that we all notice without realizing it... colors, shapes, changes in the surroundings, locations of objects or people in relation to the POV. For that deep POV touch, have characters note things that they would notice. No two people would walk into a room and notice the same things. Think about what in the room/the scene/another character might catch your characters eye. 

Sound
Sound can be relatively easy because you can describe voices if you include a lot of dialogue like I prefer. But I find I forget to includes sounds of everyday life that we all tend to tune out, but are there nonetheless. Things like cars passing, low murmurs of voices at parties, background music, etc. You don't need a lot, just a touch here and there. Again, try to incorporate things your character might notice.

Touch
Touch could be the bread and butter for a romance writer. Touch can be a very sensual experience. Wonderfully descriptive words come from touch - rough, smooth, silky, hard, soft, lush, scratchy. Think about textures of furniture, of food, of clothing, of skin, of pets, even the air. You get the idea.

Smell
You would think that smell would be easy to include, but unless there's food involved, I find I really have to think about smells. (I guess I love food.) Smells surround us, but unless they're strong we don't think about it much. Next time you get out of the car or enter a new building, think about what it smells like. Does it smell like a hospital? Like Christmas? Like a trash bin? Like piney woods? Like flowers? What do people around you smell like? Like what they just ate? Their cologne? Their shampoo? The pool water they just swam in?

Taste
This is perhaps the hardest sense to include regularly because most of us only think of taste in terms of food. And, at least for my characters, I don't have them eating in every chapter. However, taste can come into play in ways that are more subtle. Have you ever tasted the metallic flavor of blood, or the lips of the person you just kissed, or a scent in the air is so strong you can taste it?

Other Senses

Did you know there are more than 5 senses these days? I heard a trivia question recently saying that there are more than 5 senses--which, as a writer who tries to include these details in my descriptions, I found fascinating.

In researching this a little, I discovered that scientists are still divided on the additional senses. Some link them to specific sensory organs in our bodies (eyes, ears, olfactory, tongue, skin - but also inner ear, etc.). Some consider that there are subcategories to the main 5.

Regardless of classification, here are some additional senses that most of the websites I reviewed agreed on:
  • Temperature - Hold/Cold
  • Balance
  • Pain
  • Sense of where your limbs and body parts are
  • Thirst
  • Hunger
  • Time

Just think of all the new ways you could incorporate these additional sensory details!


Paranormal Senses

Now let's take it yet a step further, into a genre specific bonus!

In paranormal romance, we are dealing with creatures that don't have just their human senses. They could potentially have heightened sense. Take werewolves and wolf shifters for example. Several articles pointed out that animals have heightened versions of these senses. Dogs smell 100x better than humans. So it stands to reason my wolf shifters would as well.

Think about having fun with the possibilities this presents. For example:

A dragon might be cold intolerant, because they like heat better. They might also have a great sense of balance which could be needed for flying. How much fun would a dragon with inner-ear issues be to write, because suddenly they are grounded (and more interesting).

OR
A vampire might be a great CSI because they can taste elements in blood. What if they could be a DNA tester? Or  blood-alcohol tester?

OR
A psychic can't stand to be touched because it triggers visions. That'll make intimate relationships difficult. Build in conflict right there.

I think you get where I'm going now. (In fact, I might go write that dragon with balance issues right now.)



I hope you have a ton of fun trying to fit in some new sensory detail, and maybe even make a character more interesting because of it! Let me know what you come up with!


5 comments:

Diane Burton said...

This is a fantastic post, Abigail. So much info--some I knew (and try to use) and a lot of new. Thanks for the link to the Harvard med. article. So helpful.

Abigail Owen said...

Thanks Diane! Funny how random things (like a morning radio show talking about other senses) can make their way into your writing life. :)

Maureen said...

These are some great tips, Abigail, and definitely something I need to be mindful of. I tend to have to return to layer in more descriptives, but they help so much when I'm reading to visualize the scene. Thank you!

Abigail Owen said...

Thanks Maureen! I also tend to have to layer in more descriptions and things like the senses. It's a process, isn't it?!? :)

Sandy Wright said...

Great article, Abigail. I have no problem layering senses and description into my writing, even in first drafts--but you have given me some paranormal issues to consider as well. What fun! Thanks.