Writing that evokes the 5 senses is all about balance and knowing when to focus on any one sense over another or which ones to combine in order to make the biggest impact. Last week we looked at the most common and yet most misunderstood sense: SIGHT.
This week we’re looking at: TOUCH
Touch is the second most often used sense after sight, in writing, and when authors invoke its essence it’s either done really well or really poorly…
1) The rough sweater irritated Jamie’s skin as her mother forced it down over her head.
2) The coarse, air-dried wool knit sweater scraped over her skin, igniting a series of hives over Jamie’s face and neck as her mother forced it down over her head.
Why is the second version better than the first?
I’m showing you exactly what the words “rough” and “irritated” mean and giving you a more complete picture of what is happening to Jamie and what kind of relationship she has with her mother all at the same time:
Now, not everyone will know that if you dry wool in a traditional clothes dryer on any kind of ‘heat’ setting that it will shrink. So air-drying it, even on a clothes line, will leave it feeling stiff (however, you should get this general idea with the mention of the “coarse” material). Traditional vented dryers soften threads by breaking them down over time. Jamie’s mother is obviously contentious about properly washing and drying clothes but has little to no regard for the fact that Jamie is allergic to wool (the hives) nor does she appear to care much about her daughter by “forcing” it over her head.
While a reader might wonder why Jamie’s mother is “forcing” the sweater down over her daughter’s head in the first example, it’s not that far fetched to assume that they’re in a rush or Jamie might be acting out (we don’t actually know how old she is from this excerpt) and it’s easy to assume motherly-over protectiveness.
This is not the case with the second excerpt. Now that the reader is aware of the fact that this sweater is actual torture for Jamie and that her mother either doesn’t know or doesn’t care about her allergy is hinted at by the force she uses to get it over her daughter’s head. This not only allows us to feel (touch) what Jamie feels but to ask questions about this relationship and spur us on to read more in search of answers.
Touch is by its very nature sensual. Knowing that, as writers we have to act like plastic surgeons with a little nip and tuck, lift or volume here and there in just the right places to amplify and preserve beauty. We don’t want our masterpieces looking like Cher or Joan Rivers (two of the earliest users and abusers of plastic surgery in Hollywood) or even worse… someone who is obsessed with being ‘perfect’ but has too many surgeries and actually looks horrific instead.
So tread lightly, use this sensation wisely and it will bring you many excellent returns on your investment.
The over-done (written) version of the above example:
The annoyingly itchy natural fibres of the sweater gouged Jamie’s skin creating massive hot, red welts as her mother forced it down over her head.
(Eeeeeek! Run away screaming!)
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