USING SENSORY SCIENCE FOR DEEPER DESCRIPTIONS
© 2015 By Jeanne Marie Leach
The dictionary defines the “senses” as any of the faculties involving sight, hearing, smell, taste, or touch, by which humans perceive stimuli originating from outside or inside the body. These five senses are the ones everyone learns about in school, and writer’s groups remind you to be sure to utilize them all.
However, in the scientific world there is no solid consensus among neurologists regarding the actual number of senses because of differing definitions of what actually composes a sense. Humans are considered to have at least six additional senses that include:
- Balance and acceleration
- Temperature differences
- Muscle and joint motion
- Sense of time
After researching these further, I’ve come to the conclusion that these extra “senses” are a valuable part of descriptions used in fiction stories, so as a fiction author, keep these in mind. Most of them are usually mentioned naturally as the need arises in a story, but a couple of them could easily be overlooked. Using these senses will definitely enhance the word pictures you create and will deepen the characters.
This week, I am focusing on muscle and joint motion and direction.
Kinesthetic sense (Muscle and joint movement)
The kinesthetic sense provides the sensation of movement or strain in muscles, tendons, and joints. This can be termed muscle sense and is the awareness of the position of one's body, including weight, muscle tension, and movement.
You use this sense in situations like closing your eyes and touch the tip of a finger to your nose. If your muscle sense is working properly, you won’t lose awareness of where your hand actually is, even though it is not being detected by any of the other senses. Muscle sense and touch are related in subtle ways, and their injury results in unexpected and deep shortages in perception and action.
A large, upscale department store hires a woman and her team to dress their windows for the spring season. As the team works on staging light and airy scenes behind the windows, the owner of the firm requires help from one of her team, and a handsome, young man volunteers. With two step ladders facing each other, she climbs up one, and he goes up the other. While someone else hoists a large placard upward, the two on the ladders nudge it into place, their hands touching each other’s hand, and the woman becomes deeply aware of how close the man’s torso is to hers. She can “sense” his nearness, even though she’s focusing all her attention on the placard.
Directional awareness, most commonly noted in birds, is also found to a limited extent in humans. While bees and birds and animals like cattle possess a directional instinct with regard to the Earth’s magnetic field, man does not. Humans must rely on scientific findings in order to navigate their way in the world. While most people depend upon compasses and maps, there are occasionally people who can stand in a certain spot and instinctually “know” which way is north. Scientists disagree on whether this is a true scientific phenomenon or simply a fluke of nature, but they cannot deny the existence of this occurrence.
When you create characters, you can determine whether they are one of the “unusual” people who have a keen sense of direction or if they must read a map in order to get out of a situation. Remember that reading maps, or noting the position of the sun or stars is a learned technique.
Example: You have a female protagonist from New York City who is on a first-time camping trip in the woods with her cousins. She needs to go to the bathroom, so she must walk a short distance before she can make sure nobody will see her. When she finishes, she walks back the way she came there, but somehow manages to miss the campsite. Not wanting to look stupid, she turns and keeps walking. Then she calls out for help, but nobody responds. What does she do?
You must determine if she has any survival skills. Does she know how to use the trees as a directional guide? Does she know how to tell direction using the sun? If she does know these things, then it must be written into the story somehow where she learned these tools. If she’s one of those unusual people who has a basic “knack” for finding her way, then that too must play into the story. You cannot just have her find her way through the woods without having established how she knows these things. Without this information, the story won’t be believable. A New York City gal who can find her own way back to her cousins just doesn’t sound right. . . unless. . .
Be sure to come back next week for Part 3: Pain!
If you missed Part 1: Balance and Acceleration, go HERE
Jeanne Marie Leach is a multi-published author and freelance editor specializing in fiction and teaches courses on editing fiction. She is coordinator of The Christian PEN, a member of the Christian Editor Network, and member #46 of The American Christian Fiction Writers, where she received the 2012 Member Service Award. She teaches 32 weeks per year to editors on how to edit fiction and continually keeps abreast of current market trends and hones her knowledge of fiction writing and editing through classes and conferences.
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