Use All The Senses In Your Storytelling

During the last week, I’ve been listening to novelist David Morrell who taught a special one day fiction class at the Glorieta Christian Writers Conference. If you haven’t heard of his name, David has 28 million novels in print including Rambo and First Blood.  He is also the co-president of the International Thriller Writers.  Last summer, I met David and heard him teach about dialogue at ThrillerFest, which was a terrific event.
When he taught at Glorieta, David told about working with screen and television writers whose prose came off as one-dimensional and flat.
Why? They were only using the sense of sight in their writing and when they added any other sense (including smell), it enriched the effect of their writing. As a part of his teaching, David read a page and a half from his latest book, Creepers (now out in paperback) which won the 2006 Stokers Award for the Best Novel from the Horror Writers Association. Here’s the first two paragraphs of Creepers–notice the words incorporated into this sample besides sight words:
“That’s what they call themselves, and that would make a good story, Balenger thought, which explained why he met them in this godforsaken New Jersey motel in a ghost town of 17,000 people. Months later, he still would not be able to tolerate being in rooms with closed doors. The nostril-widening smell of must would continue to trigger the memory of screams. The beam from a flashlight wouldn’t fail to make him sweat.”
Use all of your senses in the words you select (and especially nonsight words) to improve your storytelling techniques.
Also don’t try and pick up this conference recording, you won’t be able to do it.   Apparently David didn’t allow Manna Recording to record his fourth session–and only allowed those participants at the conference to purchase it.  It is not available to anyone else.  I’m going to be hanging on to my CDs from David Morrell—now that I know his teaching is rarely recorded. It was excellent and something I will listen to several times in the days ahead.

4 Responses to “Use All The Senses In Your Storytelling”

  1. C.J. Darlington Says:

    Thanks for this advice, Terry. I never realized how much I depend entirely on the sense of sight in my writing.

    I remember hearing John Sandford talk at the National Book Festival last year, and one thing he said stuck out. In a nutshell, he told us exactly what you’re saying: that if you include in your novel’s first page a strong sense of smell, it will stick with the reader so much better.

    I never forgot that. Now to implement it.

  2. Vicki Caruana Says:

    Using all of our senses does more than dress up our writing. It invites the reader into the experience in an intimate way. Be encouraged though if your first draft is a little “flat.” During revision you can add the layers of sight, smell, sound, and touch.

  3. Ariel Says:

    This is good stuff. I just found your blog via the 14six site, and I’m hooked.

  4. SAND STORM Says:

    Excellent posts this week Terry! I think the more we can incorporate the five senses into our writing the more realistic and hopefully memorable our story and our characters will become.

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