Friday, 14 September 2012

The Five Senses

“We live on the leash of our senses.”—Diane Ackerman (
“Common sense is that which judges the things given to it by the other senses.”—Leonardo da Vinci (

The sight of the sun winking at you from between rain clouds. The sound of birdsong after a long winter. The feel of sand between your toes on your first trip to the beach. Your first taste of rebellion. The smell of your partner.

Our senses influences how we experience the world, how we learn, love or regret. I personally tend to ignore them sometimes, choosing to delve into the challenges of everyday life while literally forgetting to stop and smell the roses. It’s gotten better now (I practically had to kick myself into watching the world around me) and day dreaming somewhere in nature has become one of my favourite down times.

If we take away one sense completely, do the others make any sense? An apple is red, yeah so? That doesn’t mean anything if I don’t know that the redder it is the better it tastes or smells or that it gets squishy after a while. If the weather man forecasts blue skies tomorrow, will it have an impact on me if I can’t feel the sun on my skin or hear the kids playing outside or taste the picnic spread?

I know people who claim to have the sixth sense and frankly it scares the pants off of me while at the same time intriguing me beyond what normal people consider healthy. My protagonist Anjeli in The Scarlet Omen is plagued by visions and spirits and everything else hair-raising. She struggles with it, wanting to be a normal teenager but knowing that that’s not going to happen anytime soon. It’s fun to read about characters with special powers and how they deal with it but I sometimes wonder if we need senses like that in real life. The people I know who “see” things personally don’t see the point to the gift either. Luckily, God knows that I’d freak out and live at the top of a coconut tree if I had the gift so He has spared me.

So what are the implications for authors? We all know that readers don’t like being told but shown (I can’t tell you how many books I’ve sent flying at the wall which tried to convince me of the millionth shade of brown rock!). Stories need to sound magical or readers might as well pull out their encyclopedias and get to it. It’s hard work, but I’ve read a few books that have mastered it and I must say...the enchantment that unfolds is so worth the trouble.

“It is the writer’s job to show us what his characters are like, not by what he says about them, or what they say about one another, but by their actions...telling...makes a text read more like a synopsis than a work of art.”—Noah Lukeman, The First Five Pages

My first novel, The Scarlet Omen plays mainly in a parallel world called The Valley of the Hornbills. As you can imagine, nature practically smothers my readers from left, right and centre. Can you imagine reading or writing a book like that without making use of your five senses? I’d have died of boredom in the middle of writing it! *Cause of death: lack of sensory stimulation and a whole lot of bull.

So let’s take the time and actually put some thought into how we perceive the world. It might get a little overwhelming at times, but it’s a whole lot better than inhaling a Snickers bar without even knowing there’re peanuts in it. As for The Scarlet Omen and my medley of the senses, I’ll leave you to be the judge of that. All you need is a good sense of humour, a not so sound mind and a taste for magic. Cheers!

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