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Senses and Feelings

March 10, 2011

I heard a loud noise and jumped. It came from the door behind me. Whatever it was. It was probably a bad idea to go inside the room. But I still approached the door. My hand trembled, even as I tried to keep it steady. Something kept emitting a strange sweet smell, but I wasn’t sure from where. I touched the handle. The metal felt cold underneath my skin and a chill ran down my spine.

As cliché as that scene sounds, this was one of the scenes that first inspired me to write fiction. I didn’t read the scene anywhere. I imagined myself in the place of the person opening the door and I decided that I wanted to write about it. After writing scenes like that one, I realized that I liked the idea of putting myself in the shoes of a character going into a dangerous situation, considering all his or her senses, and thinking that I could hear and feel what he or she did. Of course, the best part was that I didn’t get attacked or killed by whatever bogeyman or serial killer was behind the creepy door with the cold handle. But I still imagined the danger, and the thrill of getting that on paper was fantastic. Actually, for me it was not a certain writer or a specific story that made me want to write fiction, it was the desire to get certain senses and feelings out of my system. Sometimes inspiration would come as a sentence that I wanted to expand upon, like “She trembled at the sound of his voice.”  Ok, what else did she feel? I needed to know that, and eventually I needed to know why she felt that way. It was later on I learned to appreciate books more, and they became another new type of inspiration, but imagining senses and feelings continued to be my favorite part of writing and one of my main sources of inspiration.

Probably the reason why senses and feelings are so important to me is because together they form images. After all, a fiction writer must create images so that the reader may submerge his or herself in what is written. An image can be something concrete, non-concrete or a mixture of both.  While smell, sight, sent, taste and hearing may inspire some images, others are inspired by anger, happiness, sadness, love, nostalgia, or other feelings. The five senses create the physical image, the concrete one, and the feelings create the one that is psychological, or non-concrete. Depending on the story, a writer may choose to either join both the concrete and the non-concrete or to keep them separate. Either way, feelings and senses are involved. So for some writers, such as myself, the easiest way to begin a story is by thinking about one character and what that character is feeling or sensing.

Of course, I won’t deny that starting with the what instead of the why is not always the best idea. There are times where the what stops to be enough and you realize that you need a plot but don’t have one–this is probably one reason for which some writers like to plan before getting started. Nevertheless questioning what is being felt or sensed is still a wonderful way to begin, because as you describe a feeling you may be able to think of reasons of why you or someone else might be feeling in such a way and develop a storyline.

So to end this, I have a suggestion. If you are ever feel like writing something, and don’t know what to write about, try thinking of a specific feeling and how everything your character hears, smells, tastes, sees or touches affects that feeling. Or try the opposite: think of something that might put to action one of your character’s five senses, and explore what are the feelings that come as a result.

  1. Andrea S. Michaels permalink
    March 10, 2011 2:47 am

    I’m half way where you are: my purpose is to write about feelings, emotions and get them out of my system or understand them a little better. Or rather make ppl understand them.

  2. March 10, 2011 4:40 am

    I love the way everyone’s starting point is so different: characters, images, feelings etc. Like you, I love working with images in my head, although I don’t often make them my starting point. I guess I’m just a daydreamer but it certainly helps with the writing.

  3. March 12, 2011 12:35 am

    I love immersion writing, too. My best scenes come when my characters start doing things in my head. I’ve written many scenes as I was trying to go to sleep and it was as if I was watching my characters play out a scene in my mind’s eye.

    I keep a notebook and pen on my nightstand and quick turn the light on, scribbling the scene bit by bit until it plays out. With each segment I close my eyes again and put myself right back in the action imagining how they feel, seeing what they see, hearing when they hear, moving around the space with them. The words that hit the page are often the most authentic and really capture what was happening to the characters at the time.

    Thanks for the great post!

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