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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What’s that Smell?


What’s that Smell?

Natalie Bright

Using the five senses to draw readers into your fictional world is probably something you’ve heard before.

THE SMELLS OF CHRISTMAS

What better time of year brings back more memories than the holidays? Last week the owner of our local Mexican food restaurant shared the memories of his grandmother’s kitchen. She lived in a small house, and kept plastic over the windows for added insulation against the cold winter wind. The smells from her tiny kitchen were overwhelming when he stepped inside. Flour tortillas, sizzling beef, cinnamon, sugar and hot chili peppers. As he described the scene it was almost like I was there. I really miss my grandmother’s kitchen too.

HIGH SCHOOL TIME WARP

About a month ago I was reminded how powerful the five senses can create emotion. I walked into my son’s high school band hall. BAM! It was as if I’d been transported through time.

The sensory overload swept me away. The dusty smell from feet taking countless steps on a carpeted floor. The scent of sweat, with 100+ bodies in one room. A few notes from a trumpet. The solid clank of a locker door. A scale of notes by a clarinet. The constant, unending chatter of young voices.

My heart beat a little faster and my throat closed. My eyes actually misted over. I froze. In my mind’s eye I was back there; the Dimmitt High School band hall. The faces of the Bobcat marching band floated through my mind. If we could only go back to those moments for one day. Would you? I certainly would. I would revisit every sight and sound and horrible smell, and I’d go armed with a notebook this time. I’d write it all down to keep that moment forever ingrained into my memory.

A band director snapped me out of my time warp. “Can I help you?” he asked.

I just stood there, gripping three cases of goldfish snacks. “They go around the corner. First door to the left,” he said.

My journey down memory lane was done. Reality crashed around me.

EMOTION IS A POWERFUL THING

There was one other time when a smell overwhelmed me with emotion. My father has been dead almost fifteen years. He owned a welding shop and I hung out there most every day. Several years ago, I toured a huge plant in New Mexico that made natural gas circulating systems as part of a work related field trip. The entire back portion of the plant was a welding room. I walked through the plastic stipes covering the door into a personal meltdown. The smell of heated metal was overwhelming. My eyes filled with tears and it was all I could do to not sob uncontrollably. My father had suffered a long, slow battle with cancer. He had died at home and the visual image of paramedics carrying his body out of the house will forever haunt me. I have no idea what our tour guide said. We took a slow walk through the space and I honestly did not know if I would be able to hold it together.

EMOTIONAL TRIGGERS

How powerful our emotions can be when something triggers those memories. Think about how this kind of sensory overload might be for your characters. Create a history for them and then bring them crashing back into reality. The memories can be good, or sometimes that smell might recall something horrific.

KICKING THINGS UP A NOTCH

A children’s author, in describing her process, explained that she makes one final pass of her manuscript to add sensory images. Wish I could remember who said that and give credit, but it was one of those invaluable tidbits I picked up at a writer’s conference. At the point her story is solid, she adds even more sight, sounds, and smells which bumps everything up a notch. The reader can’t help but be immersed even more into that fictional world.

May the sights, sounds and smells of the holiday inspire you!

Merry Christmas!

Nataliebright.com