Sensuality Times Five

Copyright Cynthia VanRooy - All Rights Reserved

Romance writing is sensual writing. I don’t mean what you’re thinking, so get your mind out of the bedroom. <g>

I’m talking about making the most of the five physical senses. The more you can give the reader the feeling of being part of the story, of being an active participant, the better their reading experience, and the more successful your writing.

The key is in addressing the senses.

In every scene cover at least three senses, bonus points if you manage to hit all five. Don’t make the reader try to imagine how something sounds, looks, smells, etc. The trouble with doing that is the reader may be way off base and not imagine the scene you think you’ve written—or worse, the reader may not do it at all, making your story much less immediate than it could be.

.Be specific here. Stay away from meaningless generic adjectives like beautiful and ugly. Give the reader the details that will lead them to decide for themselves the impression you’re trying to create. Susan Wiggs does this masterfully in Home Before Dark:

. . . the maples blazed brighter than any forest fire, in colors so intense they made your eyes smart: magenta, gold, deep orange, ocher, burnt umber.

Notice that she doesn’t tell us the woods are beautiful. She lets us come to that conclusion on our own,

When relaying the sensual details of a person, place, or thing don’t go through a laundry list of color, feel, sound, etc. Slip the descriptions in so they become an invisible part of the writing. In this scene from Friday’s Temptation the heroine is massaging the hero’s scalp. I’ve inserted the description of his hair by making it part of the action:

She combed through his thick, sandy hair noting its healthy texture and the lighter sun-bleached streaks. She knew women who would have killed for hair like Taylor Sloane’s

The most obvious sense and the one most of us usually go for first in description is visual. We don’t usually have a problem telling the reader how something or someone looks. My book Friday’s Temptation was the most challenging for me to write because when it opens the hero has just been blinded in an accident. Nothing told from his point of view could be described using vision. I had to keep closing my eyes and asking myself what he heard, what he smelled. It was a real eye-opener for me. No pun intended. <g>

If you were outside at night, but couldn’t see, how would you know it was night? List all the ways. If you were awake in your bed, but blind, how would you know the sun had risen? The warmth of the sun on your face as it slanted through the blinds, the sound of the birds outside the window, maybe the smell of coffee brewing somewhere? Or the sound of a garbage truck making early-morning rounds? It’s your story, only you know what makes it special.

Practice describing the world around you. When you walk into a friend’s home, ask yourself how you would describe the smell. Everyone’s home has a unique scent. Isn’t that part of what makes our home ours? How is the smell of a freshwater lake different than the ocean? Be specific. Again Susan Wiggs nails it in Home Before Dark:

She could smell the lake before she saw it—mesquite and cedar and the cleansing scent of air blown across fresh water.

And if you’ve had the experience of being able to compare an Atlantic beach with a Pacific beach, what makes them different? And they are, just as northern and southern beaches are.

Force yourself to stretch by describing something with a sense you wouldn’t normally use. How does the air taste? What color is it?

Start a vocabulary list for the senses. When you come across a great word, add it to the list. Then you’ll never be at a loss for the perfect description. I pay particular attention to perfume ads. They contain a payload of words. And the next time you’re in a hardware store, gather a number of paint color chips. You’ll find marvelous color descriptions in the names. For flavorful words, read restaurant wine lists and menus. Good restaurants pull out all the stops when it comes to describing their selections.

In your scenes don’t choose things to describe randomly. Go with items that will further your plot. Every word you use carries meaning and your reader responds on a subliminal level to that meaning. Think of description as background music. In a movie you are set up for the emotional punch of a scene by the kind of music used. You can do the same thing with words.

If your book is a romance/murder mystery and the heroine is about to stumble over a body, set the reader up: The heroine walks outside and the screen door moans shut behind her. She notes the cloying scent of the dying, overblown roses, the dank chill of the deep shade under an aged elm. Are you getting this?

This same scene, but a lighter story, a picnic with a new love: The screen whispers shut, she notes the faint sweet perfume of the new roses just beginning to bloom, the welcome coolness of the shade. The same, but different, isn’t it? It’s all in the word connotations. You can become a master hypnotist, able to manipulate the reader’s feelings

The ability to paint a vivid word picture is one of the things that sets great writing apart from the merely good. Description is a powerful tool that can give your writing gut-level impact or reduce it to banal clichés. Use it well.


About the author: Cynthia VanRooy is an award winning romance novelist with eight books published by both print and epublishers. Her ninth romance will be released late 2005 by New Age Dimensions. Additional details can be found at Cynthia's website.


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