Purple Prose + senses

Beyond the Five Senses

©Koichi Kamoshida

Quick. Name the eleven senses.

Right now you probably saying, “Huh?”Aren’t there only Five senses: sight, smell, sound, taste, and touch?

True enough, but romance author, Marilyn Kelly, listed eleven senses during her workshop at the 2010 RWA national conference. They include (in addition to the above mentioned ones):

  • Pain (nociception)
  • Balance (equilibrioception)
  • Joint motion and acceleration (proprioception)
  • Sense of time
  • Temperature difference (thermoception)
  • Direction (Magnetoception)
  • Interoceptive senses

I’m not going to explain each of these. You can read more about them on her worksheet (it’s the first one on the list). What I want to talk about is how to use them to develop your characterization. This isn't explained on the worksheets (and I don't know if she covered it in her workshop).

One of the best ways for the reader to connect with your main character is by letting the reader experience the character’s world through her point of view. Her emotions, character traits, interests shape how she views the world. And her interests determine which of the senses to predominantly use in the scene or novel.

For example, say you have a character whose main interest is figure skating. She’s training hard for upcoming competitions that are important to her skating career. Now brainstorm which senses would be the strongest for her:

  • Sound (she listens to music, right?)
  • Pain (especially if she’s injured and pushing herself hard. Or maybe she has high pain threshold, which enables her to push harder than her competition).
  • Balance
  • Joint motion and acceleration (a good one to focus on when she’s learning a new move or routine)
  • Direction (for example, when her partner lifts her and they spin)

Now write a scene in which she’s practicing a complex jump and incorporate each of these senses into the scene.

Does this mean you can’t use the other senses? No, it doesn’t. Go ahead and describe the smell of the arena if it’s important to the scene. The point is to make sure you include those senses that would be most predominant in her mind, and then describe them in a way that shows her emotions at the time. Do that, and you’ll take your scene so much further than by incorporating just the five standard senses we’ve all seen listed in books on writing.

Any questions? I have a sports physiology background, so I can probably answer your questions about all the senses. If not now, I can answer them as a separate post.

best, book, characterization, description, emotion, Novel, and more:

Beyond the Five Senses + senses