RTW--Senses Working Overtime

Road Trip Wednesday is a "Blog Carnival," where YA Highway's contributors and followers post a weekly writing- or reading-related question and answer it on their blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.

This week's topic: The Five Senses. How you use them in your writing, how you are inspired by them, pictorial essays, that character with smelly socks, books that have used them well, the ones that are currently missing from your work, etc.

Since I pay a lot of attention to details around me in real life, I think I do a pretty thorough job of covering all the senses in my writing. Sometimes, too thorough--I had a crit partner complain about all the bad smells in my historical novel: vomit, sewage, rotting food, animals, etc. His complaint only made me more proud of those sections--I'd actually grossed him out with writing on a page!

But not all of the sensory descriptions are gross-out. I have some tender touches, gorgeous scenery, whispering ghosts, comforting smells like the love interest's balsam shave soap, and my favorite, FOOD.

In this last dive into revisions, I noticed how much I talk about food in Spirits from the Vasty Deep. How could I not, when she goes to such exotic climes as Spain, Jamaica, and Antigua? The MC, Olivia, is lucky enough to board with a fantastic cook and here's a little teaser section of when Olivia first arrives at her home (this one doesn't go into the taste and smell as much as other sections, but be glad because she's been seasick and vomiting):

The grand name of dining hall led me to picture a richly formal room, but it was quite the opposite. A large sturdy table, like you might find in a farm kitchen, dominated the room, groaning under the food laid out. Pottery dishes held the local fare of baked yams, fresh mangoes and melon, scones and clotted cream. Hard-cooked eggs, a cold chicken and loaves of dark, soft bread rounded out the meal.

"Are we waiting on others to join us?" I asked as Duncan held the chair out for his mother.

Before Mrs. MacInnes could answer, Duncan laughed out loud.

"I warned you she would put out a spread at tea to welcome me home. She believes I eat nothing but moldy salt pork and hardtack when I am at sea," he said in a stage whisper as he held my chair for me.

"Well, you are always thinner when you come back," she said.

"Only because sailing is hard work—not because I starve. I'm all muscle."

To demonstrate, instead of sliding Sonia's chair in he picked it up with her in it and placed her closer to the table. She squealed and said, "Otra vez." Instead of fulfilling her request of "again", he patted Sonia's shoulder and took his place beside his mother. As Duncan filled his plate, he did nothing to disprove his mother's notion of starvation. He took servings of everything, eating with impeccable manners—but much gusto. I confined Sonia and myself to the eggs, melon and bread.

"Aren't you hungry?" Mrs. MacInnes asked.

"I'm sorry we can't do justice to your offering, but Sonia and I suffered from the ‘mal de mer’ on the entire trip from Jamaica to Antigua."

"Then you are wise to stick to bland foods," Mrs. MacInnes said. "Are there any interesting new delicacies from the States you can share with me when you're recovered? I hear brown bear is popular in California."

I gaped at her, spoon raised halfway to my mouth. I had never even seen a real bear, except the stuffed one standing in the corner of my father’s study, let alone tasted one.

"Mother, surely you don't expect us to have a bear haunch in our baggage?" Duncan said.

"Of course not, young man, I merely thought she might have some good receipts to share." Well used to his teasing, Mrs. MacInnes did not take the bait. Perhaps she could teach me how to do that—he always seemed to be able to get the best of me with his banter.

Hope you enjoyed my tease! And no, that's not a typo above--they used "receipts" rather than "recipes" in this time period.

What about you--do you find yourself using one sense more heavily than others in your writing?

P.S. Don't forget, I'll be out of touch electronically for a bit. I've set up auto posts for the next two Mondays (including a recipe on the 15th--more food!)


Sarah said...

People tend to forget when writing historical fiction how smelly and gross those times really were. Or, maybe we just overly romanticize things. I say, excellent work for capturing that!

Rebecca B said...

Great example/teaser. In revisions, I've worked on bumping up food descriptions when my characters travel.

Jennifer Pickrell said...

"I had a crit partner complain about all the bad smells in my historical novel: vomit, sewage, rotting food, animals, etc. His complaint only made me more proud of those sections--I'd actually grossed him out with writing on a page!"

This cracked me up - I would have been proud, too!

Tracey Neithercott said...

I thought your excerpt was great! I did make me hungry, though. :)

I also have a lot of bad smells in my WIP. Life's full of gross scents. Why shouldn't stories be, too?

Angelica R. Jackson said...

Sarah--I used to participate in Ren Faires as a teen and thought we were all being so authentic, until I did more research on the period and followed through with imagining what it would really be like. I was very glad we were not so authentic.

Rebecca--I'm a vicarious foodie when traveling; I love food, but I have food allergies to be careful of. So I'm constantly getting stuff for my husband to eat, and then I watch him eat it (like Barbossa in Pirates of the Caribbean "try an apple next")

Jennifer--Thanks! It's the 12-year-old tomboy in me that thinks gross stuff is so delightful. With 3 older brothers, what else could I do but learn to outgross them?

Tracey--it's fun to play with unexpected smells as a way to turn perceptions on end; the beautiful flower that smells horrible, the lumpy fruit that smells divine.

Francesca Zappia said...

Ahhhhh the only problem I have with so much food description is that I get SO. HUNGRY. But I love it when an author can really describe a food buffet.

Kris said...

Those foods do sound (smell?) wonderful. You're making me hungry! I notice I use sound a lot in my writing, the crashing of waves on a beach, the scrape of a chair sliding across a stone floor. I need to incorporate taste more! Part of the reason is I'm sure it's fun to write about food.

Miss Cole said...

Oooh, seasickness. I share your characters' pain! And even in this excerpt, I see your characters use taste way more than mine! It's great to see how other writers use the senses :)

(Also, on a random note, the word verification for this comment was "mififoo" which made me chuckle ;D)

Angelica R. Jackson said...

Kris--food is fun to write about, but I do make myself hungry! I'm really susceptible to seeing food on TV; I'll be watching a show and it could be the most heartbreaking or dramatic moment. But if they're eating toast, all I can think about is "Damn, now I want toast!"

Miss Cole--I get terribly seasick myself, so that was definitely a case of projecting a trait onto my character. And I love making up definitions for WV.

Michelle Schusterman said...

Really great snippet - thanks so much for sharing!

Kris said...

Damn, now I want toast! :)

Sarah Nicolas said...

I hardly ever use taste in my writing because - I just noticed - my characters hardly ever eat "on screen!"

Angelica R. Jackson said...

Michelle--thanks for the compliment!

Kris--aren't you glad there isn't a toast theme song? Then you'd have a song stuck in your head, and have a craving for toast.

Sarah--I used to notice that as a kid, whenever I read a book and nobody ate or went to the bathroom. Not that they have to be doing either of those things constantly (or in graphic detail), but still--never? Really?

Katy Upperman said...

Ooh, I love your teaser. I never used to be a fan of historical fiction, but lately I've found myself drawn to it--mostly because of all the rich details and descriptions. Great post!

Alison Miller said...

I LOVED your excerpt! And am now very much wanting to read the whole thing. Great post on the senses!

Jennifer Hillier said...

Great excerpt!

I use smell a lot in my writing, maybe because I have a sensitive nose myself and scents often trigger memories and affect my mood.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your excerpt.

I'm trying to add more smell and taste to my wips since I don't use those senses enough.

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