March 31st, 2010

Workshop #5: Writing about the senses

Something weird has been happening to me–my senses are getting sharper! Not vision, unfortunately; a few days ago, I took my contacts out and then mistook an empty toilet-paper roll lying on the floor for a mouse (and what was it doing on the floor, we wonder). But hearing and smelling, yeah, it’s getting intense! Does this happen regularly to women in their thirties? It’s sort of an unlooked-for, and in someways unhelpful, bonus. I had a near meltdown at a meeting because someone was twisting her pen barrel against the nib, and the rubbing made a very high-pitched squeaking noise. Apparently no one but me could hear it, but I eventually had to halt the meeting and request that the pen be quarentined, lest my brain explode. I’m sure all neighbouring dogs were very grateful. And I swear I can smell supper cooking in every house I pass at a certain hour, and you wouldn’t believe the number of people in this city who get on the bus smelling of pot. I also uttered the words, “You bought a new brand of deoderant!” in an accusing voice, which is really something that, if you told me ten years ago I would be doing, I would have been profoundly shocked (and still sort of am).

Wow, everything I post has to have this big long personal preamble–sorry! What I’m getting at is, now is a good time to be doing the workshop I’m doing tomorrow, which is writing about sensory perceptions. I marked the first batch of assignments this week, and I can see that, as per usual, it’s the visual that reigns supreme. Not unusual, even with mature writers, but I really do want them to broaden out. I’m going to be doing the same exercises as last year, which involve giving them a specific sensory stimuli, and one that lacks obvious references (unlike say, the scent of roses or the taste of honey, there are few obvious cliches about the flavour of Bubblemint gum or the sound of Leonard Cohen’s voice) and inviting them to write about.

I think those exercises are useful for any writer to do at any age (and prettymuch always listening to Leonard Cohen is helpful) but the lesson I’m going to do beforehand is probably of less use to adults–a bit too elementary. But it’s going to be on to the difference between subjective and objective adjectives.

It’s so hard to remember being a kid and having a really narrow frame of reference and experience, mainly within the family and a group friends that might all have a similar narrow frame. It’s so hard to remember when I thought a word like “beautiful” or “fascinating” or “boring” had a universal, unassailable interpretation. I’m not looking forward to breaking it to the whippersnappers that they can’t say, “ugly wallpaper” and leave it at that, because every reader will have a different interpretation of the word “ugly.” Better to describe the brown and gold flocked velvet wallpaper objectively, and leave it to the readers to conclude for themselves that it is ugly…some might not do so (!) but that’s their perogative–perception is complicated.

I am so sure they are going so say, “But you say ‘awesome’ and ‘amazing’ and ‘super’ all the time. Those are totally subjective words.” Fine–so they are. But me talking (or blogging) is supposed to be subjective, or that’s how I justify it. And I’m also available to fill in the reasoning behind my judgements in person (or on the blog–really, just comment) whereas a narrator is not available to the reader beyond the last page of the story–it’s got to be all in the writing. Anyway, that’s what I’m going to tell them, and I hope they buy it, because then I’m going to ban all subjective adjectives.

I’ll let you know how it goes.
RR

One Response to “Workshop #5: Writing about the senses”

  • Amy says:

    I want to be in your class.


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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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