"Wherever men have lived there is a story to be told." Henry David Thoreau

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Sense of Taste

We all love food. We all crave certain foods. Eating ranks right up there at the top as one of the greatest pleasures in life. I'll admit my two favorites foods are chocolate and ice cream. Put them together and it's damned near heaven. But do we write about food? Or the sense of taste? Not so much. (I had a time finding examples of the sense of taste). When we do write about this sense, it's usually something that tastes unpleasant. Sometimes, what we taste isn't food at all.

I was pondering why the sense of taste doesn't find its way into our writing very often and I finally realized that it's because, generally speaking, it doesn't have anything to do with the crux of most stories unless it's a story about food, like the movie, Chocolat. (Naturally I would remember that one!)

I did manage to find some very good references to the sense of taste in the wonderful nonfiction book, Bread and Rice, by Doris Macauley, (an American woman's fight to survive in the jungles and prison camps of WWII Philippines):

"We squatted in the darkness of our cell, smoking the cigarettes the Filipinos had sent us. The tobacco burned away the slimy, fishy taste of the food."

"'Hurry to eat this–Japs will come soon.' We devoured it ravenously. Not since the mountain people had cooked for us had we tasted such dry well-cooked rice. The Japanese do not know how to cook rice. Theirs is always too wet or too sticky. I smiled gratefully through the bars at the woman."

"A few moments later we were in a large bamboo shed where the mountain people had thrown down their loads and were now squatting comfortably and laughing among themselves while the storm raged around them. They began passing betel nut and the women offered us their sweets and rice-sticks wrapped in bamboo leaves. Out of politeness we did not refuse, but as we sat eating the sweet, gluey concoction, we were thinking of steak and french-fried potatoes. . . ."

The sense of taste can evoke sensuous feelings, or it can elicit joy, delight, contentment, and pleasure. Depending on what hits your tongue, it could bring nausea, fear, pain, or even death. So strive to include this sense in your writing. Of all the senses, this one can be very personal and can summon powerful emotions, images, and memories in ways the other senses can't.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Black Holes, Cyberspace, and Missing Manuscripts

After more interruptions that resulted in a couple of weeks away from my suspense book, I sat down yesterday to get back to work on what, I hoped, was going to be the near-final draft. I decided I'd better back up what I had on my flash drive–just in case– since I hadn't done that for quite a while.

When I clicked on the folder to open it, the cursor highlighted the folder above it. Not thinking too much about it, I moved the cursor back to my book folder, clicked on it again, and. . .voila! it vanished. I thought, this can't be. It has to be here somewhere. It can't have just disappeared into cyberspace. But I searched and searched and couldn't find it. Trying not to panic, I assured myself that I at least had a hard copy from months earlier, but I got momentarily ill thinking of the job it would be to re-type those 400 pages and remember all the changes I'd made.

Trying not to panic, I called my critique partner and managed to sound calm. "Guess what? I think I just deleted my entire book."

"Oh my God, no." I could hear the utter shock in her voice, echoing my panic.

Only another writer could relate to this and what it meant. Luckily, she was thinking more clearly than I was. She immediately set to work, walking me through the steps to search for the file. We both breathed a sigh of relief when it finally popped up on my screen. I clicked on it to make sure it was indeed there. I hurried and saved it to my flash drive. Then I realized what had happened. During all the highlighting and clicking, it had accidentally been moved into the folder above it.

Technology. You gotta love it.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Sense of Sound

The sense of sound probably finds its way onto the writer's page in second position after the sense of sight. Regardless of where you are, a city or the wilderness, close your eyes for a moment and allow yourself to hear the sounds, or the silence, that surrounds you. Even in what you think is relative silence, there is always a sound, even if it's white noise in your ears. But you will pick up more, the soughing of the wind perhaps, insects buzzing about, a jet flying overhead. Something. In the city, it might be a cacophony of noise, almost too many sounds to describe. Pick out those that relate to the mood of your story in some way. For instance, if your character is happy, focus on the happy sounds, like the happy music of an ice cream truck coming down the street, or a bird chirping merrily in the nearby tree, children laughing. If your character is in a frightening situation, like lost in the forest, focus on a huffing noise in the depths of the forest that could be a wild animal like a bear coming close. Or twigs snapping, brush popping and crackling as if something is coming fast with no caution. It could be a herd of elk fleeing a hunter, or it could be a predator chasing your protagonist. Sounds work wonderfully to create a mood.

There is an old Cherokee saying that I love: "Listen, or your tongue will make you deaf."

Now here are a few examples of how to use sound to create a mood and/or paint a picture.

From Firelight by Linda Sandifer:

"He always came at night, like death or the devil. He came when the moon rode high, casting ghostly shadows over the canyons and over his fiery red body. But he never came quietly. Even above the thunder of his band's pounding hooves, the stallion's shrill scream pierced the night and sent chills racing down the spines of every person on the Walking Hawk Ranch. The low, rumbling sound, like the earth trembling, pulled Rafe Cutrell from the depths of a deep sleep."

From Tallgrass by Sandra Dallas:

"At first, I wasn't scared, just humiliated, knowing that the drone in the room meant my classmates were talking about me, accusing me of being a thief. When the bell rang, dismissing classes, and the room grew quiet, however, I wondered if I'd have to stay there all night."

"Carl began to cry, and Dad sat down on the steps next to him, putting his arm around Carl's shoulder. We were all silent, listening to Carl's sobs, which were ragged, like a piece of machinery that wasn't hitting right."