Emotion: Use the Scene

I have always found that I have a strange fascination with dark subjects. This has helped me to make an emotional connection to writing with dark, sinister or depressing subjects. When I read something that really draws out these feelings, I can experience them a lot more than I might be able to feel the love in a romantic poem. You will likely have your own topics that cause you to emote more than others, too.

This month, we are thinking about emotion in our writing. There have been two posts so far: identifying where to put or enhance emotions, and show, don’t tell. Today, we’re going to think about another way that we can create emotion within our writing: using the scene to boost (or even hint at) emotion.

As last time, I used sadness, this time we’ll look at happiness. Let’s take a simple scene and try to add things in the background that can (generally) be associated with happiness.

Here is the scene:

“There was a market in the centre of town. We went there and saw many people who were talking and laughing merrily. The weather was pleasant.”

I have already set up this scene so that I can change things to boost the emotion. However, at the moment, the only mention of emotion is that people at the market are merry. The note that the weather was pleasant suggests happiness, and I believe that weather is a very good way of establishing emotion, but we need more of an explanation. Let’s try to build on the paragraph:

“In the centre of the town, a bustling market had been erected overnight. We visited to see that almost everybody who lived there had turned up to meet their friends, laugh away their worries, and sample the delicacies of the town. It was warm and bright enough to wear sunglasses, but a gentle breeze kept the heat at bay.”

There is now more going on in the scene: the market is full of people and energy, the people who visit forget their worries, and we know more about the weather. I could go further, by describing the sounds, tastes, smells, and so on in the marketplace (check back on the posts from March, on the Five Senses). But we can see that the scene at the market is preparing for something happy to take place – unless, of course, you want to turn the whole thing on its head, and surprise your readers by throwing something negative in there instead!

This month’s theme is EMOTION. If you have written something that you would like me to share on this blog on the theme of emotions, then please post a link in the comments or email me on lauramarieclark1@gmail.com with the subject: Emotion.


Five Senses: Combining the Senses

We have now discussed all of the five senses and examined some of the reasons why the senses are an important part of our writing. We also know that it is important for us to practice our use of the five senses in writing and be aware of when we are using them (as well as when we are not, but perhaps should). Furthermore, we have discussed with of the senses are seen as ‘easier’ to write about and so more commonly found in writing, as well as the less common ones that we should particularly try to include.

If you have missed one of the posts or would like to read them again, then we have discussed sight, sound (or hearing), smell, and touch and taste in four different posts this month. Today, let’s think about combining these senses within our writing.

Now, first consider this: that we do not want to confound our readers with a sense overload. If there are too many sounds bombarding us at once, then we may be unable to discern one from the next. Equally, if there are too many things to see, you might not know where to look. Too many smells may become mingled together, and so on. The same applies to the senses in your writing.

When you are combining the senses, you should think about which senses best apply to what you are writing about, as well as which go together. Smell and taste are a good combination, as are sight and touch, and touch and taste. If you want to be adventurous, try a harder combination like sound and touch. Can you link them together with a strong theme?

Now, think of words that you can use that connect your chosen senses with one another. You can use those powerful words that you have been practising to describe each sense, but it is also a good idea to tie them together with some connecting words. This will be easier if you have selected senses that have a strong link already. For instance, ‘sweet’ can imply smell and taste, ‘leather’ can imply sight and touch, ‘tender’ might imply touch and taste. For sound and touch, you could try a word such as ‘heavy’ – heavy music and heavy objects, for instance.

We can therefore see that we do not need to stick only to one sense when we are using the five senses in our writing. But we can also see that too many senses, or the wrong combination of senses, can make our writing feel muddled. It’s fun to try to mix them up. Why don’t you have a go?

This month’s theme is THE FIVE SENSES. If you have written something that you would like me to share on this blog on the theme of the five senses, then please post a link in the comments or email me on lauramarieclark1@gmail.com with the subject: Five Senses.

Five Senses: Touch and Taste

When it comes to our favourite books, we choose those that most effectively immerse us into the world that the author has created. For instance, Paradise Lost is one of my favourites because of the might, the majesty, and the detail that help to pull the reader deep into a genuine experience of the poem. Writers can get their readers involved like this in various ways – a good way is by using the five senses to enrich our writing.

Our coverage of the five senses has so far taken us through ways to use and describe sight, sound (or hearing) and smell (take a look at my poem, Now That We Can Smell, as well). Today, we will tackle the remaining two senses: touch and taste.

I confess to less frequent use of both of these senses. It is not difficult to say whether something is hot or cold, rough or smooth, made of silk or leather, but that is about as far as I go with touch – and similarly, do not tend to be particularly descriptive in regards to taste. There is, of course, much more to them both than this.

Let’s think about how we can use each of them in turn. Here we do not necessarily need to think about using as vibrant words as in the cases of the other senses – instead, we should make sure that we fully utilise these senses to immerse our readers into our writing.

Let’s think about touch. We are often so busy describing how something looks that we can sometimes forget how it feels. Remember, everything that your characters come into contact with has a texture or a temperature, and though you probably do not want to list them all one after the other, touch is just as important a sense. It might not be able to conjure old memories as effectively as some of the other senses, but it is a part of everything. We are all familiar with how things feel, so add those key words to your writing to give your readers a deeper insight into your piece.

Now let’s think about taste. You may not get the chance to use this one as much, so make sure that when you do, you select your words wisely. Arouse your readers’ taste buds by telling them that something is delicious or disgust them with something that is bitter or barely edible. Is it mouth-watering or sour? If it tastes good, then why does it taste good – and if not, then why not?

And those are the five senses! It’s important to be aware of how you can use them in your writing. Don’t forget to utilise those underused senses: smell, touch and taste. They are just as important as sight and sound and can add extra layers of depth to your writing.

This month’s theme is THE FIVE SENSES. If you have written something that you would like me to share on this blog on the theme of the five senses, then please post a link in the comments or email me on lauramarieclark1@gmail.com with the subject: Five Senses.

Now That We Can Smell

When water forming at the mouth
Brought about as immediate reaction
To the scent that somehow came
Wafting under the gap beneath my door:
So strong, it promised to fulfil
My hunger; as I drooled
So my stomach rumbled in delight
Of pies and pastries, each one fresh
And ready to be eaten, they filled
The very air itself with ravenous desire:
Now that we can smell.

When foulness came along, on paths
Once rich with the aroma of flowers;
Man and dog in companionship, but man
Without a care for noses passing by,
Left the dog to do its business
Then wandered off without responsibility:
So I come along after, and obnoxious it drifted
Into my nostrils, a nasty, unclean odour
Hanging on the breeze, toxic presence
So I gagged on that which makes me live:
Now that we can smell.

When in a crowded gym, we worked
Hard to chisel ourselves into our desires,
Came pouring off bodies the stench of sweat;
So wrinkled up my nose and carried on
The dripping so profuse, it pooled down
Over my forehead, down my face, and
In waves of stinky perfume rose off me
Into the room to set the sense alive;
This one pleasant to me, productive smell
Clung to my clothes and skin until clean:
Now that we can smell.

But the most of all from my imagination:
I thought a rat, perhaps, though could not hear
It left behind the tang of strewn trash
Damp, decomposing, it occupied my lungs
Is unforgiving always, never satisfied
Until the funky inhalations make me dizzy,
So potent and ferocious, that not only
Dirt and filth do I associate:
This reek has come to mean some rotten
Performance before critics and their wielded pen:
Now that we can smell.


Author’s note:

After my last post on the Five Senses (Smell), Shiva Malekopmath asked me to elaborate more of using smell in our writing. While my initial interest in writing about the senses was to encourage more use of them, and not particularly in listing examples (in my opinion, smell is a very underused sense that many writers, myself included, don’t think about enough), I am happy to provide a little poem based around smell.

I’ve picked out some simple, common smells to use in this piece. The first is food, and a reaction to the smell of food. The second is the smell of dog waste interrupting a natural scene. The third is the smell of sweaty bodies in a gym. The fourth is an attempt to associate a nasty smell (in this case, rubbish) with performance anxiety, the implication being that people who suffer with performance anxiety can feel as though they are little more than trash.

Five Senses: Smell

Readers want to be able to experience your writing in as vivid detail as they possibly can. They need to feel as though they are involved in your writing. This can be achieved in a number of ways; a good way to pull your readers into the world you want to create is by using the five senses.

So far, we have discussed how to enhance our descriptions of the visual – sight – and the audio – sound, or hearing. These can help us to create a more intense piece of writing and are probably the two most common of the five senses that you will find yourself reading and writing. Today, we are going to think about a less commonly used sense: smell.

Selecting a powerful or important smell can create an emotional response in your readers. This is similar to how you can use sound to shape the atmosphere you want within your writing. Foul smells will make your readers think of dark, nasty place, where sinister people lurk; pleasant smells might remind them of a happy memory that will give them a positive outlook for your piece. You could lure them into a false sense of security if you wish – our ability to associate certain smells with certain feelings can always be used against us!

Smell can also be used in simpler ways. You could use a smell as a specific plot point or focus your entire piece around a particular smell and what it means to you. Can your readers guess the smell that you are referring to?

If you do not feel the need to be metaphorical or elusive, then there is no problem with simply naming the smell; this is not something that you necessarily need to go into a great deal of detail over. If the cake is supposed to have burned, then you can say that the kitchen is full of the smell of burning cake. Go into more detail if you wish. Your biggest problem will be when you attempt to describe a smell without specifically naming it. That is when you may need to use the other senses, similar smells, and clever references to make people think of the smell.

This is a fun sense to play around with, but it can often be difficult to use. Each smell can mean something different to each of your readers, so you will be able to create lots of different responses to your writing. This can be a good thing. But describing a smell can also be complicated for a writer – it is something that many of us need to practice.

This month’s theme is THE FIVE SENSES. If you have written something that you would like me to share on this blog on the theme of the five senses, then please post a link in the comments or email me on lauramarieclark1@gmail.com with the subject: Five Senses.

Five Senses: Sound (or Hearing)

Mastering the five senses is essential for budding writers, especially poets. We often only have a limited amount of space or time in which to convey our meaning or describe something to our audience, so we need to be able to use the senses effectively in our writing. This means that practising using the senses is very important!

Last time, I discussed sight. I believe sight is by far the easiest sense to write because I have always found it easier to imagine something’s physical appearance than to imagine what it feels like, sounds like, smells like or tastes like. Today, we are going to examine sound, how we can describe sound in our writing, and the benefits it can provide.

Obviously, you will need to know the sound that you are trying to reproduce. It might be a good idea to search the internet for a sound clip that is close to the sound you wish to write about and listen to it for a while. This will allow you to get a good feel of the sound. Now it is time to translate that noise into words.

Try to select something that is a focal or main point to the piece you are writing. Sound can be a very good way to set the mood of a piece, as we tend to associate different sounds with different emotions or ideas: waves lapping softly against the pebbles on a beach could represent tranquillity; a long, drawn-out howl on a moonlit night might suggest something scary is going on or about to happen. I would personally advise against bombarding your readers with too many different sounds at once. Try to stick to a main sound or a main theme for your sounds.

Now consider the language that you are going to use to describe this sound. As someone who does not tend to focus on sounds often when reading, I use powerful words in short bursts when I am trying to create sound within my writing. Take a look at my poem But for now a World of Despair, where I used the noises associated with an avalanche to describe my feelings on the migrant crisis in Europe in 2015. Words like ‘grumble’ and ‘bellow’ are stronger than ‘groan’ and ‘shout’. Notice also how I placed the word ‘song’ in the middle of the poem to demonstrate that this poem is focused around sound. When you are writing about sounds, you should carefully pick out your words, too.

For example, it is okay to say ‘he spoke loudly’ or ‘he shouted’. But he could also roar or holler. You can add more intensity to the sound in your writing by expanding your vocabulary and replacing common words with more powerful descriptions that will evoke a greater response. Try practising with different sounds to see what you can come up with – I would love to share some poems or stories focused around sound on this blog.

This month’s theme is THE FIVE SENSES. If you have written something that you would like me to share on this blog on the theme of the five senses, then please post a link in the comments or email me on lauramarieclark1@gmail.com with the subject: Five Senses.

Five Senses: Sight

This month’s theme is the five senses. We will discuss ways that we can use language to get more out of the five senses in our writing. The five senses are, after all, essential components if we want to ensure that our readers feel involved in our writing and can imagine what we are trying to describe in as vivid detail as possible.

We will begin with sight. In my opinion, this is the easiest sense to write about, but it is also often overlooked. Writers can be all too quick to tell you that the water is a bright blue, but not to tell you how the sun’s rays shimmer on the surface of the lake, creating sparkling reflections of the tree branches that hang low over the water. To provide the colour or size of an object is fine, but if you really want to draw a reader in you need to look beyond the basics and mention important key feature that can set the mood and paint a picture for your readers.

It is also easy to practice writing about sight. This is not only because it is something most of us have been practising from our early days of writing (‘The man is tall’, ‘The elephant is huge’, etc.), but also because sight is easy to combine with other senses, too. We will come back to that later in the month – for now, let’s just focus on describing how something looks.

Take your time when you are describing appearance. Try practising by choosing an object you own rather than imagining something, so that you can pick it up and examine it closely. Think about more than the size, shape and colour. What is it made of? – This will also connect you to touch. Is it heavy? Exactly how large or small is it? Are there patterns on it that you can describe? – And so on.

Let’s look at an example. Here is a photo of my Book of Shadows. If you aren’t familiar with one of these, then think of it as a kind of magic journal, full of spells and rituals.


I could describe it as a large brown book with an embossed pattern, but the chances of you imagining a book that looks like this one from that vague description would be slim.

However, there are other ways that I could provide a more accurate description. It is a large brown leather book, big enough to need two hands to hold it, with gold metal clasps to seal it shut. It is so stuffed full of handmade paper that the book bursts open when the clasps are released. Both the front and the rear covers are decorated identically, embossed with four vines, one in each corner, and with a pentagram design in the centre. The pentagram is also inside an embossed circle. There are small holes around the edges of the covers where thin leather bands have been laced through, adding a lighter shade of brown to the otherwise mono-colour book. The corners show a small amount of wear, suggesting that the book has been used often and with care.

We now have a clearer idea of what this book looks like. By going into more detail about the physical description of an object, we can make it seem more real to our readers and encourage them to visualise it in their mind’s eye.

This month’s theme is THE FIVE SENSES. If you have written something that you would like me to share on this blog on the theme of the five senses, then please post a link in the comments or email me on lauramarieclark1@gmail.com with the subject: Five Senses.

Theme for March: The Five Senses

Each month, this blog will feature posts discussing writing tips and prompts on a specific theme. This month’s theme will be THE FIVE SENSES. I will be discussing ways to develop your use of the five senses within your writing and how to use them together to draw your readers deeper into your work.

If you have written something that you would like me to share on this blog on the theme of the five senses, then please post a link in the comments or email me on lauramarieclark1@gmail.com with the subject: Five Senses.