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

Monday, September 7, 2009

Sense of Touch

While looking for some good examples of the sense of touch, I came to the conclusion that we writers tend to dance around this one. We clearly don't take advantage of the many opportunities to use this sense in its full capacity, even in romance novels where there is a lot of touching going on. When we do use it, the words are not very descriptive; i.e., a "tender" touch or a "warm" embrace, etc.

What we feel with our fingertips can bring us pleasure or pain. It can warn us of danger or excite our desires. If we touch something too hot, we draw our hand back. If we brush up against a thistle, we pull away. A kiss might make us swoon, or if it's from someone whom we find repulsive, it might make us vomit. If you shake a person's hand, it might tell you if he is truly happy to meet you or if he'd just as soon wipe his hand off when the handshake is done. An embrace from someone might show how a person feels about you or a certain situation. You will feel their grief, happiness, understanding, or genuine love without the need for words. This sense can elicit some highly charged feelings in our lives and our relationships, from the newborn bonding to its mother, to two people developing a romantic relationship, or even a relationship that has grown old and cold with no passion remaining.

So why do we dance around this one? My guess is because it's rather difficult to find words to describe how something feels to the touch. It takes a bit more effort and creativity. Even things that might seem simple to describe, like a drop of rain on the tip of your tongue, or a puppy's fur against your cheek will still render rather uncreative descriptions like the "warm, wet rain," or the "puppy's soft fur."

Here are a few examples I found to get you thinking about how you can use this sense in your own writing. I know I'll certainly be more aware of it in my own.

From The Last Rodeo by Linda Sandifer:

"In the dream he could feel her fingers caressing the side of his face with a touch so light it could have come from a breath of wind, or the passing of a ghost."

From The White Mare by Jules Watson:

"Rhiann, leaning in on her knees, wriggled to get a better grip on the slippery body. Fire from the hearth glowed on waxy skin and smeared blood, and under the wisps of dark hair, tiny bones throbbed against her fingers."

From The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón:

"All I could absorb was the icy pressure of the gun's barrel sunk into my cheek, and the smell of gunpowder."

From Seven Minutes to Noon by Kate Pepper:

"Alice was surprised by the sudden warmth of Mike's hand slipping into hers. She squeezed his hand, greedily drinking in the rich warmth of Mike's skin, the solidity of his bones and muscles."

If anybody out there has some good ones, please share.


Barb said...

A great blog and something I will look to use with more effect - thank you.

I like this sample from "Sepulchre" by Kate Mosse.

"The door to the church opened, with a gust of cold air, as more travellers came in from the rain. Léonie shivered as her wet skirts wrapped themselves around her cold legs."

I can almost feel that clammy fabric.

Barb said...

Also just dropping off this KREATIV BLOG AWARD. You can find more details about this on my blog. Thanks for all the inspiration you give me in your posts!

Wes said...

From my current WIP. Two men are dying of thirst in New Mexico and resort to drinking blood from a mule.

"Kincaid forced himself to cup his mouth across her ear and suck in her life. The hot blood mixed with the salts and minerals caught in her coat and made for a tolerable taste, rich with life yet spiced with bitter grains of the earth. The wet hair, soft in his mouth, soothed him. He felt like a babe on a tit and drank long and deep before rolling over to give the ear to Joe."

Strange Fiction said...

Another great post on the senses! It’s easy to use basics like rough, or smooth, or soft as down… much harder to come up with descriptions powerful enough to bring touch to life. I like your examples--I’ll have to give this some more thought.

Linda Sandifer said...

Barb and Wes, thanks for two great examples! Also, Barb, thanks for dropping off the KREATIV BLOG AWARD. I'm glad I can pass along a little inspiration to fellow writers.

Lady Glamis said...

I love this post! I've been thinking about it for quite awhile since I read it. Thank you! I'm going to try and incorporate this more into my writing.