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
- · Pain
- · Sense of time
- · Direction
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 pain.
Physiological pain signals near-damage or damage to tissue. The three types of pain receptors are the skin, joints and bones, and body organs. Recent studies show that pain is registered in a specific area of the brain. The main function of pain is to warn us about dangers. For example, we avoid touching a sharp needle or hot object or extending an arm beyond a safe limit because it hurts, and thus is dangerous. Without pain we would do many dangerous things without realizing it.
We’re talking about the physiological pain, not emotional pain. Both are used in fiction writing, and until now, authors mostly described pain as being sharp or dull or constant or terrible, and innumerable other basics of pain. Imagine how deeper your descriptions will become when you mention the receptors in your description.
Example: Due to sticking her arm out the car window for two hours, the skin on her right arm inflamed and each nerve ending shot miniscule bullets to the reddened forearm. She cradled her forearm close to her, but it did nothing to assuage the pain. Why hadn’t Daren awoken her earlier? Didn’t he notice her arm burning in the sun? Now they’d have to make a stop to get some aloe cream . . . the sooner, the better.
Instead of having someone get a “sharp pain in their side,” have them pinpoint the exact area. I’ve experienced kidney stones, an inflamed appendix, and Irritable Bowel Syndrome. To this day, I can tell you exactly which one of these pains I’m having. By lying still and concentrating, I can pinpoint where inside of me the pain is coming from. I can tell if it’s high (kidneys) or low (bowels) or unusual (appendix). Not all of your fiction characters will be able to do this because they haven’t experienced these specific pains before. But they will be able to tell you if it’s deep inside them on the right side, whether it’s high or low, whether the pinpoint is radiating pain across the whole midsection, and many other specifics. These details will take you deeper into the POV character’s experience and will make it more real for the readers.
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.
If you missed the previous posts in this series by Jeanne:
Find Part 1 HERE
Find Part 2 HERE
Be sure to return next week for Part 4: Sense of Time, the final post in this series.