David Madden on utilizing the senses

I’ve been reading my way through David Madden’s Revising Fiction, which is rapidly proving to be one of the best investments I’ve made in the last few years. I keep stumbling over things that explain the minutia of writing incredibly well.

Case in point.

Your reader expects to see, hear, touch, smell, taste. Bald statements do not necessarily stimulate the reader’s senses. “Coughing, the tall man wearing a wool suit, reeking of garlic, ran into the flower shop.” That sentence may or may not have stimulated one or more of your senses, despite my overt, rather strained effort to do so. A cluster of sensory experiences may not be as effective in a given context as focus on a single sense. “Fires on the dry mountain slopes surrounding the town had been smouldering for days.” We can see that, but we can also smell it, without including a phrase as “and I could smell the burning leaves throughout the village.” No other sense is as difficult to stimulate in fiction as smell. But most senses are more sharply stimulated by implication than by direct attempts. “The man was so tall he had to stoop to enter the room” is less effective than “John entered the room, followed by a man who had to stoop.”

Stimulating of the readers senses is a major source of that sense of immediacy the writer works to achieve in revision.

Revising Fiction: A Handbook for Writers, David Madden.

Leave a Reply