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Monday, 21 March 2016

Use your sense

It's the aim of all good writers to bring their work alive for readers. One of the enormous pleasures to be derived from reading is that feeling that you are actually living in the world a writer conjures up for you, whether it's Ancient Rome, the Middle Ages, the Elizabethan Era or just a social strata you will probably never encounter.
One of the most powerful tools a writer has to achieve this effect is the use of sensory perception. Sight is an obvious example of using the senses - the old mantra of show not tell is a very valid one -  but sound, taste , hearing and touch are very important too.
Probably the best way I can illustrate the use of these elements in fiction is by referring to my own work, in this case my historical adventure mystery set in the Age of Shakespeare, Salvation
For example in a scene where one of the main characters undertakes a mission to France for spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham, I wanted to convey the sounds and sensations of a crossing from England to France in a small boat. This is the passage I wrote:
" From the deck of the Maid of Kent, he watched the grey-green water slap and froth against the hull and felt the breeze ruffle his hair. The ship was reassuringly sturdy, built of good Kentish timber. Under sail she lumbered along like a stout laundress pegging out sheets to dry."
Arousing our sense of touch can be very effective as well. In the next example it is used in a romantic scene where my heroine, Meg, longs for her lover, Tom Goodluck.
"Was this what life held for her? Married to a man she could not love; trapped in a gloomy house that surrounded her like an ugly cloak she didn't want to wear? She leant her cheek against the stone mullion and felt the warmth it had absorbed from the morning’s sun. Its smooth texture reminded her of Tom’s lean, hard body. All at once, such a strong rush of longing and sorrow went through her that she almost cried out."
Yet touch may also be used to convey harsher moments, for example when your characters are suffering or in peril, as in the next example when it is combined with taste and sound:
" 'Hold on, Bess,’ Meg shouted. She wound her fingers into the cob’s coarse mane and clung on as they galloped out of the yard.
The cob’s hooves squelched as he picked his way across the boggy ground. A low mist made both girls shiver and left a taste of wet earth in Meg’s mouth. Behind her, she felt Bess’s chest heave as she coughed.
‘Must we go this way?’

‘Yes, it will be safer than going on the road, we agreed that.' "

So, important as it is to construct a gripping story with believable characters, don't forget the senses. Using them to the best advantage can make the difference between a good book and a great one.

To find out more about Salvation, follow the link or click on the cover image on the right hand side of the blog.


Recommended by the Historical Novel Society Review as “an exciting romp through the hurly-burly of Elizabethan England, when plots and counter plots were the order of the day and where hidden danger lurked around every corner”, Salvation will keep you gripped until the very last page."
"An historical tale with so much to offer. The characters are so well drawn you feel you know them intimately and they remain with you afterwards. The details to the setting and background of the story bring it vividly to life. The story is both dramatic and touching. It gives a very strong picture of the hardships and triumphs people of the time experienced."
"A really great read."
"Salvation" is captivating and intriguing, with great narrative and a realistic insight of a long gone era. It is so rare that a book leaves an aftertaste! Usually we associate "aftertaste" with wine, and a great wine leaves a pleasant one, as the historic fiction "Salvation" does. It makes you want more, and I will definitely seek Harriet Steel's books."
Winner of the Awesome Indies Gold Award