Word Nerd: 5 important elements that your writing needs

29 Jul

Word NerdPhoto by Lisa from Pexels

Hint: It’s not grammar, syntax, or vocabulary. In this edition of Word Nerd, we’re talking about five elements which, used well, can make your writing effective and memorable. These are the senses: sight, touch, taste, sound and smell.

Perhaps you’ve come across tips like, “Show don’t tell” or “No ideas but in things.” You’ve probably considered these tips were best used by those interested in writing poetry, features, or stories. And it’s true that a poet needs to give “airy nothing” a “[l]ocal habitation and a name (Shakespeare).” But, say you’re a lawyer writing an important brief, you too would do well to keep your senses in mind. As the US Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor advises lawyers in her memoir, “It is the particulars that make a story real.” So,

So, whether you’re writing a poem or a pitch, it is useful to make an impression on your reader, to draw their attention. Writing offers a world. And what better way to make that world real than by compelling your reader’s senses?

Here are five great examples of using the senses in your writing:

1 Sight: Think about The Great Gatsby and its green light. Or what yellow means in this context – “The color is repellant, almost revolting; a smouldering, unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight. It is a dull yet lurid orange in some places, a sickly sulphur tint in others.” (The Yellow Wallpaper, Charlotte Perkins Gilman).
You use the senses every time you try to describe the sky as blue or jeans as faded. Now, do this consciously and you’ll see your writing improve.

2 Sound: Your writing already has sounds down to the alphabets, just as your sentences have their rhythms, whether or not you’re conscious of them. But when you invite someone into the experience – whether it’s by describing a gunshot in the neighborhood, or the mad rush of traffic on the streets, sound can be a wonderful asset.
Here’s an example from a poem by Carl Sandberg: “The voice of the last cricket/ across the first frost…It is so thin a splinter of singing. (Splinter)”

You can read that out loud and enjoy how the poet pays attention to enhance the auditory experience even as he describes the song of the cricket.

3 Touch: There’s an important distinction to make between being touched (the way you feel) and touching something or someone (the way things feel). Including textures and tactile imagery in your writing can make it real for the reader or listener. This is an example from the one and only Keats: “A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.” Doesn’t it make you aware of your own body as you read it? That’s an excellent way to be pulled into an experience. It’s one reason why Keats is the OG.

4 Taste: If you watch any of the Masterchefs, or cooking videos, or use #foodgram #foodphotography or #instafood hashtags– you’re going to love this one. It’s challenging to appeal to this sense if you’re not writing about food but it works well as a simile. Think about how many times you’ve chanced upon the expression: “It left a bad taste in my mouth.” Or even the cliché, “This farewell is bittersweet.” Now, think about all the creative ways in which you can use this sense to create a feast for your reader.

5 Smell: Finally, the olfactory sense. Arguably, the sense of smell is the most powerful one. It’s easy to associate a holiday at your grandparents with the smell of something cooking, a date with a perfume (or the lack of it if you’re unlucky), the scent of the first rain in the countryside. Now read this passage from Charlotte’s Web:
“The barn was very large. It was very old. It smelled of hay and it smelled of manure. It smelled of the perspiration of tired horses and the wonderful sweet breath of patient cows. It often had a sort of peaceful smell­ as though nothing bad could happen ever again in the world.”
Again, while the writer gives you a description of the smells of the barn, he also uses the device metaphorically, giving us a great sense of the world of the novel.

Are there any sensory examples from literature that have impressed you?

Tell us in the comments below.

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