Thursday, February 16, 2006


Work is doing its best to suck all of the creative juices out of me, but I've still scrabbled together some energy for Provost's wacky and zany exercises. Actually, they're not wacky. They're very sensible.

Here are my attempts at using all of the senses to describe a scene:

A coffee shop.

Johnny’s Coffee Stop was brown. Mud brown, chocolate brown, coffee brown. The signage on the window, even the text. Brown. When I stepped inside, the grinding of beans hit my ears and the sharp aroma of it knifed into my flaring nostrils. I ordered a caramel latte, sat in the splintering stool and waited. When the coffee came, I caressed the cup, letting the warmth seep into my shaking hands.

A fruit stand.

I ran my fingers over the darkening pineapples, the spikes almost scraping off my fingerprints. My blood dripped into the cart. I dragged my hand past the apples, the kiwifruit, the mangoes. The heady perfume of the fruits combined with my loss of blood and I swayed from side to side, staring at the fruit stand owner’s huge moustache. He yelled at me to keep my hands off. I licked my fingers. It was like licking chains.

A truck stop.

Compression breaks squealed and eighteen huge wheels ground to a halt, sending dust and dirt into Derek’s face. He coughed and sputtered, blew the dust out his nose. The driver oozed out of the truck, knelt down and touched the earth. His face was caked with dirt and sweat, but his eyes pierced into Derek. Derek thought, these donuts better be good. The doors opened. Derek could smell the icing, taste the dough, even though all he could see were rows and rows of white cardboard boxes.


Stephen Blackmoore said...

I'm always reluctant about using all the senses to describe a scene. When I do, it ends up too wordy. That's fine for the original draft, but if I'm not careful I'll get caught up in trying to make the description work, without actually changing it. Just reordering the pieces, because, you know, once my glorious words are on paper they can never, ever change. ;-)

Eventually, I'll get over it and a twelve sentence paragraph of stunning (*cough*) wordplay gets dropped in favor of, "He walked into the office."

I think the trick isn't necessarily to use all the senses, but rather to use the right ones that give the general details and let the reader's imagination fill out the rest.

The example I've always liked was a highly detailed description of a bar, noting everything in minute detail about the sights, sounds, and smells. It then got pared down to something like, "License plates on the back wall, sawdust on the floor. Merle Haggard rumbling from the jukebox." Of course, if the character walking into the place was blind, I'd say different senses should be emphasized.

Daniel Hatadi said...

Provost does say before the exercise that you usually only use sight, sound and touch, in that order. Smells are usually reserved for strong ones.

I tend to underuse the senses in my writing, so it was just a good exercise to get me thinking about them more.

Time to add a gastric problem to my MC.

Tribe said...

Stephen is quite write in his comment. I just wanted to comment that what you did write is pretty goddman good. Too wordy for my taste, but very well written. I'm serious.

Daniel Hatadi said...

Thanks very much Tribe.

It was too wordy for my taste too, but it was just an exercise, so I didn't obsess.

Sandra Ruttan said...

It probably sounds silly, but I have a cue card with the five senses on my desk beside my computer. Each scene I write now, I look at whether I've addressed sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste.

Taste is the one I find I use least often, but the visual reminder helps me remember and sometimes helps me improve a scene on the spot.

Catesa said...

I know this is a little off topic, i was just wondering if you got the results of the write up that we voted for?
I was just curious if one of the ones I chose was your story? -the stain - guard your treasure - dollars and sense

hope all went well, does the winner get a prize? anyway have a good day and i hope you won!

Stephen Blackmoore said...

The important thing about doing exercises, which both my flabby prose and gut are testaments to, is that it allows you to do what you have to when you need to.

Gotta agree with Tribe, what you wrote is pretty damn good.

"It probably sounds silly, but I have a cue card with the five senses on my desk beside my computer."

I don't think that's silly at all. I keep meaning to put notes like that on my computer, but I tend to write on a laptop, and there's only so much room for post-its. :-(

Daniel Hatadi said...

I used to have the senses printed up and stuck on the border of my CRT, but now that I've got a laptop, I'll have to think of something else.

It never really helped me though. After a while, the sign becomes like furniture and I tend to ignore it.

Thinking with the senses is a good way to make sure you're in a character's head, but it's not like we have the nostrils of a cat, and we don't generally touch everything in sight, so yes, there must be restraint.

Cat, check here.

Stephen Blackmoore said...

Because I'm a geek, and spend far too much time thinking of shit like this, it occurs to me that we need software that will pop up messages at random times in unobtrusive ways on our laptop screens. Like those carpal tunnel avoidance timers that go off every twenty minutes and tell you to get up off your ass and away from the internet porn.

I'm not thinking something obtrusive, just a small message window that fades in at the bottom of the screen with whatever sayings or platitudes you've put into it. Kind of like the Oblique Startegies cards, but with more practical advice, or just things that inspire.

Hell, maybe there already is one. I haven't really looked.

Daniel Hatadi said...

Oblique Strategies! The cards are sitting on my speaker, but I haven't tried using them for writing. Used to use them lots for music.

Great cards. And they're black. So's the box.

Black is good.