I have to write a 500-750 word piece invoking all five senses, for my writing group next month. Actually, I suggested this task. Was I mad?
It is considered good practice to reference all five senses in most pieces of writing, but it’s not easy. Consider, for instance, the primroses in my garden. I can wax lyrical about pale yellow and pale pink petals, but how do I get you to visualise them, Dear Reader? Giving you the photo is cheating on my part. Whoever said a picture is worth a thousand words was all too right. I could liken them to rhubarb and custard perhaps? No, no, you’re laughing now. Clearly, I haven’t struck the right note.
Let’s start again. Take my cup of tea. I can do all five senses with my cup of tea:
Sight – The mid-brown colour shows that it’s a nice strong brew. When I poured the milk into the cup, for a moment, it circled around in white swirls. Also, do you see the bubbles around the edge of the mug?
Sound – Gurgling of the kettle, the clink-clink of crockery, welcome and reassuring sounds. Tea, in particular, has emotional connotations. Tea and sympathy. Everything stops for tea. There’s nothing that can’t be solved with a cup of tea.
Feel – Hot, cold or luke-warm. Wet.
Taste – Bitter, lingering on my tongue, or milky and insipid.
Smell – Although finer varieties of tea do have an aroma, bog-standard, red label, tea has hardly any fragrance, although the drinker will feel steam rising up around his/her face.
Not much to say about tea, then? Actually, in my opinion, there’s enough – for a mere cup of tea.
I find it easier to describe something that’s been done badly, or inappropriately. I could rant about tea made with not-quite-boiling water, drawing attention to its grey colour, and likening its feel to a dirty dishcloth. Or make you sweat by making you read about tea being served on a beach during a heat wave.
For me, the terrible describer, a mental senses checklist is a helpful prompt. The point of descriptions is to bring a scene, a setting or an object to life for the reader, so it makes sense to address all his/her faculties.
Have a good week. Term starts tomorrow and I’m exhausted just thinking about it. I could attempt to describe tiredness but I haven’t got the energy to do it.