The wind blew hair in my face as I walked beside my husband. The breeze sent the scent of impending weather I breathed in and tasted the coming rain. If you’ve never tasted the rain you haven’t been paying attention to the world around you. A sea breeze tastes salty while rain carried in the air tastes and smells of dirt and clean. My senses are on high alert now longing for a fresh perspective after being confined to the house. I’m smelling, seeing, tasting, feeling things in a new way. This is a great thing for a writer. Come walk with me.
After being lockdown for months I am even more aware of my surroundings. A bird’s song draws my eyes to the tree as the bird flies overhead. I hear a dog’s joyful bark in the distance. All the dogs in my life run through my mind and I wonder what bred the barker might be.
My neighborhood is a nice place to walk and my senses long for something different than the sounds of the mantel clocks chime, the smell of pizza in the oven, and the feel of the upholstery on my favorite chair.
I am consciously aware of the squirrels chattering in the trees. The lawnmowers’ distinct sound reminds me everyone will be busy in their yards before the evening comes. The smell of fresh-cut grass brings back memories of working with my dad in the yard. Yardwork brought him so much joy. The one thing he was excited to share with me.
Smell and times past
The air fills with the smoky smell of burning wood. Fire pits do the job of the long-ago days of burn barrels because open fires are against city code. My son was nine when he played archeologist as he dug into the dirt where a burn barrel had once been. He found antique bottles that he still treasures over thirty years later.
Sight paints a picture
Neighbors greet us as we walk. Most are waving acquaintances. A young man basks in the sun in a lawn chair in his front yard. Reminding me that so many aren’t yet working. A pang of sadness pricks me. I pray for the unemployed. His friendly voice as we exchange a few words speaks of hope.
Weather attacks our senses
Another day while we walked in the humid afternoon that sucked the energy from me, my steps slowed, sluggishness showed my age. I’m envious of the small children who ride their bikes in the driveway oblivious of heat.
Smell and Taste evoke memories
The smell of barbeque made my mouth water and my heart sad. The lockdown prevents my three sons from coming around anytime soon to grill a variety of meat each telling the other how they marinated their chicken.
Yardwork and senses
On Saturday hubby and I till the soil. The black damp mud clings to my shovel making turning the dirt more of a challenge. The fresh dirt smell clings to me, something familiar and normal after months of strangeness. I separate bulbs to replant. Even wearing garden gloves I can feel the shape of the bulbs between my fingers. My sister will be so proud to hear I took her suggestion. She is a wonderful gardener like our late father. She finds it relaxing I just find it drudgery.
Hubby and I near the end of our day of yardwork by spreading mulch. The cedar mulch between my fingers reminds me of Guinea Pig bedding and the sweet sister who is long dead who loved them so.
Outdoors revives creativity
These walks and times outside have sparked my creativity as I pay attention to the sensory stimulation all around me. When I return home after one of these walks I notice the whir of the ceiling fan that I took no notice of all morning. I listen to the echoed, watery sound of my husband using his electric toothbrush in the bathroom. I still haven’t master letting the brush do all the work after scrubbing my teeth with a manual one all my life. Charley is always more particular in the things he does. Not so much perfection as organized. (See what I did there? Gave you a peek at my husband’s personality through the sound of an electric toothbrush.)
Senses in storytelling
See how the senses around me stir up memories. The characters in your books should have the same sorts of memory. The manure and hay odor in a stable might remind a woman of the sweet palomino she had as a child. Watching a leaf drift down the river as the chilly wind permeates her jacket and chills her flesh could bring a sense of foreboding or loneliness. Maybe the cold wind excites her with the prospect of coming snow and ski season.
Write down the senses you experience. Then you can use them to deepen your character’s experiences. In return, your readers will be even more invested in your story as they smell, hear, see, taste, and touch along with your characters.
What senses bring memories to you? How would you describe them?