My husband and I just finished bagging up fifty pounds of fresh-roasted green chile. The kitchen smells wonderful. (Better than if I’d actually cooked something…but that’s another story, altogether). We do this every year around this time–buy a bulk of chile (New Mexico is the green chile capital of the world) and split it into a bazillion quart-sized freezer bags for us to freeze and use throughout the year. But, this year, as I was standing over the bags, the steam rising from the still-piping-hot chile, I started thinking about how important it is for writers to capture all things sensory as they’re conveying a story. Let’s illustrate:
John carried in a box of hot green chiles. Jane met him at the door and in tandem, they divided the bulk into separate bags ready to be frozen. “Wow! These chiles are great this year, don’t you think?” John asked.
“Exceptional,” agreed Jane.
John and Jane chatted while they worked until all the bags of chile were locked safely away in the freezer.
Well, we certainly know what happened, don’t we? But did we “see” what happened? Did we experience it?
Let’s try again.
John carried in a box of fresh-roasted green chile. As he opened the bag, steam rose into the air bringing with it the familiar aroma of an open fire and the fresh anticipation of flavourful guacamole and green chile chicken soup. Jane suddenly felt like a Pavlov experiment.
“These chiles look really good this year, don’t you think?” he asked Jane.
“Exceptional,” Jane agreed. She retrieved one from the bag and held it up for inspection. “Look at the size of this one. That’s a relleno chile if ever I saw one.”
John and Jane chatted while they worked to bag the chile…
While the second scene is still very basic and isn’t fleshed out at all, hopefully you can still see that there is definitely more of a feel for character and scene. We know that the chile is aromatic–but not only that, but that it has affects Jane. Because we included the sensory information, the insight into Jane was a natural, unstilted progression of that; whereas in the first example, the almost clinical “tell” left no room for us to gain insight into the character.
So, as you’re developing those scenes remember the five senses. Include as many as you can–without going into sensory overload. There is a balance. There is a time and place, also. If a character is being chased by a gunman, he isn’t going to stop and think about the fabulous scent of the mushu pork drifting from the Chinese food restaurant he just sprinted past while running for his life — right? So, with balance and prudence in mind, send in the five senses. (and if you’re so inclined, don’t forget the sixth sense: “To Be” 🙂 )
Happy writing & God bless.