quaranTEEN voices Writing Prompt: ‘Using Your Senses’
August 3, 2020
Special guest Shruti Swamy joins us for this week’s quaranTEEN voices! An award-winning writer of short stories, Shruti has published work in various publications, including The Paris Review. Her debut collection of stories A House Is a Body features tales set in the United States and India, centered around the themes of love, loss, and life across cultures. The collection is highly praised and comes out later this month.
Often, we focus all our description so much on what things look like, we can neglect the other, more subtle senses, that can bring the reader much more richly into the experience of the story.
As an experiment, find a place to sit, preferably outside (or beside an open window), with your eyes closed for a few minutes. How else is the world describing itself to you? How far away and large is the tree, whose leaves are being ruffled by the breeze? Who is walking down the sidewalk? What is the smell of the air today? What do your clothes, or sun, feel like against your knees? Take notes if that feels helpful. Another option: reach especially into a sense that is not your most dominant, like (perhaps) taste. What does this sense offer to you in terms of both establishing place and narrative?
Whether or not your protagonist is sighted, write a scene in which you move them through time or conflict (or both!) without describing the way that anything looks. What do they smell/hear/taste/feel that might communicate to the reader where they are and what they are doing? If they are in conversation with someone, how might we determine mood besides looking at their face? The tone and texture of their voice? The heat and energy their body gives off? Their scent? Remember, your protagonist does not have to be human!
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