The Five Senses

Just as we humans tend to take our hands for granted, ignoring how competent they make us, as noted in a recent post, we also tend to give no credit to our five senses—sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste—and how able they make us. Yet they are the way that we observe and communicate with the world we live in.

I can’t speak for others, but I can report on myself that, of all the senses, I am most consciously aware of sight. I pay close attention to what I see. Hearing gets almost as much consideration, especially since I am a trained musician. Taste gets the least notice. That’s partly because I limit what I eat to keep my weight down, partly because taste has the least effect of all the senses on my vocation, writing.

Because I write fiction, the senses get more play in my prose that they would in, say, a journalist’s. Sight and hearing appear the most, but some of the most effective use of the senses in my stories comes from the sense of smell. Odors, aromas, and stenches all have strong emotional connections.

Touch and taste appear infrequently in my writing. Touch is, of course, important in love scenes, but I write few of those. I write even less often about eating, so taste is all but ignored.

In writing stories, what’s important is what happens, not how the characters use their senses to observe and act. But that just makes fiction like real life: our attention is on what happens, not how we become aware of it.

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