Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Nose knows......

How much does a crime/mystery writer depend on the five traditional senses?

As I am a few decades into my dotage you would assume that at least some of the five traditional senses are waning or gone.  Touch, taste, smell, sight and hearing are the five areas of perception or senses.

 See: detect images of visible light on photoreceptors 

 Born with a lazy eye, I have worn glasses since I was two. Everything, from the National Health pink plastic frames with wires that wrapped around your ears to cat’s eye shape, square and nerdy and granny glasses. Then bi-focal and tri focal, transitions and everything in between. After the cataract surgery I loved to inform everyone about my new ‘implants’.

Hear: "auditory" or "aural”

The women on my mother’s side of the family, namely my mother, sisters and I have hereditary nerve deafness that only manifests itself when we became older. In my case my thirties and so hearing aids came to the rescue. With the new digital aids and personal microphones we all manage quite well. At least we were spared carrying around a trumpet that granny used.

Touch: Somatosensory system

Touch is the most necessary of the five senses. The desire for touch is stronger than any other desire. Think of a new born baby and how it bonds with mother skin to skin when it comes out of the womb. I asked an elderly lady what she missed most about getting older and her answer was, ‘The feel of another’s skin next to mine’. So make sure you hug an elderly person today or give a hand or foot massage. How else would we feel pain, heat, cold or love than by touch. No wonder massage therapy is on the rise.

Taste: gustation

My favourite taste is a few squares of the best dark chocolate, about 80% cocoa. Yum. Oh, and many more. Sweet, bitter, sour, salty, and Umami (Meaty or savoury). My personal preference is sweet or savoury.
Further sensations we detect with our tongues and receptors in the throat are calcium, coolness, dryness, fattiness (yuck), numbness, temperature and spiciness.

Smell: Olfaction

Smell to me goes hand in hand with taste as any cook will tell you. According to Wikipedia (where I gained my knowledge on the senses) women have a stronger sense of smell than men. I could have told you that!  My mother lost her sense of smell after my younger brother was born and with her hearing loss we had many a burned meal. Try it for yourself. Plug your ears and nose and do a big fry up. We depend on both those senses when making dinner.

What has this exercise to do with crime writing or any kind of writing?  Everything.

Quoted from a favourite book. ‘Out of Africa’ -Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen)

When in Africa in March the long rains began after four months of hot, dry weather, the richness of growth and the freshness and fragrance everywhere are overwhelming. Smell

But the farmer holds back his heart and dares not trust the generosity of nature: he listens, dreading to hear a decrease in the roar of the falling rain. The water that the earth is now drinking in must bring the farm, with all the vegetable, animal, and human life on it, through four rainless months to come.
The old women of the farm were all good friends of mine. I saw less of them than of the small restless totos, who were ever about my house, but they had agreed to assume the existence of a particular understanding and intimacy between them and me, as if they were all aunties of mine. Sight.

After the grasshoppers have passed and have gone toward the horizon like a long stream of thinning smoke, the feeling of disgust at your own face and hands, which have been crawled upon by grasshoppers, stays with you for a long time. Touch

Well you get the idea.
Using all the senses becomes paramount in crime fiction. Descriptions of what you hear and see help the reader get involved in the story. The smell of the dark dungeon like room that the captive is incarcerated reeks of body sweat and fear. The pain inflicted by his tormentor made him bite his lip until he could taste the blood.

Liz and I have started plotting our next book and building character sketches. Next Saturday we plan to meet for a celebratory breakfast and writing session.

Don't forget next tuesday May 1st until the 31st is Crime writers month on Canada Writes.

Talk soon,



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