Characters & The Five Senses


Characters & The Five Senses

Natalie Bright

 

The main character Hassan in the movie The Hundred Foot Journey, is a culinary genius whose talent propels him to a world-renowned chef.  The title refers to the distance between Hassan’s family who relocates to France because of a tragedy and opens an Indian restaurant across the road from a traditional French restaurant. I have watched this many times, and I always tear up at the same scene.

The Power of Taste and Smell

One of my favorite scenes is the perfect example of how the power of taste and smell can be used to create powerful emotion.

While sitting in his darkened, closed restaurant overlooking the Paris skyline, Hassan hears a young co-worker on break. He raises his head, pauses, and then slowly rises from the floor. The young man is eating. “Do you want some?” he asks.

As Hassan dips pieces of fried bread into the dish, the young man explains that his wife cooks the traditional Indian way on an open fire in the courtyard of their apartment using spices from their homeland. Tears well up in Hassan’s eyes and you can see the emotion and internal conflict on his face. His mother, who had died in a fire, was the one who had taught him the use of spices. The family’s relocation from India to France had been a struggle of cultural differences. All of this is visible as Hassan buries his face in his hands and sobs. You understand the conflict that is going through his mind. There is no dialogue. He doesn’t voice his pain, but you know. It is a very powerful scene triggered by smell and taste.

INCLUDE THE SENSES

Characters should experience several of the five senses in every scene. This pulls your reader into the emotion and setting and reveals the conflict that the character is experiencing. During the editing process, I find it’s easier to deliberately focus on enhancing the five sense during one pass. As I read every scene, I think about the reality for that character. What more can be revealed? For example, the smells of food, the sounds of nature, the feel of satin fabric, etc. Dig deep into the slightest, most minute detail of what that character is experiencing. Maybe it’s good as written, but maybe it can be better.

Here’s Your Homework

Think of your favorite movie and watch a scene that triggers emotion based on any of the five senses. If you have a particular scene in mind, be very specific with your search terms to find it on YouTube.

Watch the scene several times. Now, turn off the video and write that same scene. Be descriptive about the senses that trigger the emotion. Fill your pages with emotion and rewriter the scene.

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