writing the senses higher writing unit: the short story

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  • Writing the Senses Higher Writing Unit: The Short Story
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  • Step One Its all in the Detail Describing: Colour Shapes Sizes Movements Sounds Smells Tastes Surfaces These require careful processing of the details of the sensation. Your writing will come alive by doing this.
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  • Step One Its all in the Detail Example: The child was in the green garden with flowers, trees and birds.
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  • Step One Its all in the Detail The child was smaller than the tall green grass that was tattooed with tiger-skins of sunlight. To the child, it was knife edged, thick like a forest, alive with grasshoppers that chattered and chirped in the air like monkeys. From the ground a tropic heat oozed, rank with sharp odours of roots and nettles. Far above the child, like clouds, elder blossom banked in the sky, showering fumes and flakes of sweet perfumed air that suffocated. High overhead flew frenzied larks, screaming, as though the sky were tearing. Example 1
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  • Step One Its all in the Detail In the above example a lot is going on with variety of sentences, word choice and the use of techniques, but without the time taken to pay attention to details then all the writing skills would be wasted. This is what makes details so important to writing. With your partner look for techniques that the writer Laurie Lee has used to bring this description alive. Underline and then fully explain areas of the text you feel particularly appealing.
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  • Step Two Which Sense - Hearing Use words that have sounds similar to the sounds that are being described thus meaning can be reinforced. Techniques such as: ONOMATOPOEIA ALLITERATION ASSONANCE SIBILANCE
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  • Step Two Which Sense - Hearing The events of the next few minutes are difficult for me now to sort out. I found it more difficult still at the time. All we heard back there in the sidings was a distant cheer, confused crackle of rifle fire, yells, heavy shelling booming on our front line, more shouts, yells and cries, and a continuous rapid rattle of machine- guns. After a few minutes, lightly wounded men of the Middlesex came stumbling down Maison Rouge Alley to the dressing-station. I stood at the junction of the siding and the Alley. 'What's happened? What's happened?' I asked. 'Bl- balls-up,' was the most detailed answer I could get. Example 2
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  • Step Two Which Sense - Hearing alliteration, word choice and onomatopoeia have been used to convey in detail the noises occurring during the attack. Find examples which appeal to the senses. Explore these.
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  • Step Three Which Sense -Seeing Sight is probably the easiest and most obvious sense to appeal to. Pay attention to: Size Shape Colour Movement
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  • Step Three Which Sense - Seeing Our garden was large and beautiful as that garden in the Bible - the tree of life grew there. But it had gone wild. The paths were overgrown and a smell of dead flowers mixed with the fresh living smell. Underneath the tree ferns, tall as forest tree ferns, the light was green. Orchids flourished out of reach for some reason not to be touched. One was snaky looking, another like an octopus with long thin brown tentacles bare of leaves hanging from a twisted root. Twice a year the octopus orchid flowered - then not an inch of tentacle showed. It was a bell-shaped mass of white, mauve, deep purples, wonderful to see. Example 3
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  • Step Three Which Sense - Seeing details about colours, shapes, lengths and quantities are all observed and written about
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  • Step Four Which Sense -Touch As we are very tactile creatures the sense of touch is probably the most important. The next example comes from the novel Sunset Song by the Scottish writer Lewis Grassic Gibbon. He describes the setting of the Grampian mountains in the north east of Scotland during a very unlikely event - a drought in Scotland. He uses personification of the wind to get across the feelings of touch in the setting.
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  • Step Four Which Sense -Touch For days now the wind had been in the South, it shook and played in the prickly moors and went dandering up the smooth, hard sleeping Grampians, it danced on the soft waters of the loch, its light hand upon them, but it brought more warmth than cold, and all the once sodden parks waited for fair rain that seemed never-coming. Up here the hills were brave with the beauty and the heat of it, but the hayfield was all a crumbly, crackling drynes and in the potato park beyond the biggings the shaws drooped red, grainy, dry and rusty. Folk said there hadn't been such drought. Example 4
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  • Step Four Which Sense -Touch describing touch/feeling makes the reader more aware of the physical reality of the world in your story.
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  • Step Five Which Sense - Smell Sense of smell can be difficult to describe so, you need to get inspired: Use a thesaurus to help you with words about smells. notice descriptions of smells when you see or hear them such as advertising: "lemony fresh", "fresh pine scent" adjectives can describe the general, overall quality of the smell: wispy, rancid, airy, musty, stale, fresh, putrid, faint, light, floral, acrid; burning smell; you can use a noun or noun phrase: a stench, an aroma, the smell of leather, it smells like strawberries; smell of baking; smell of burning
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  • Step Five Which Sense - Smell use verbs for the smells: smells can waft, district, dull, attack, permeate, confuse; wrap around you; follow you words associated with other senses can be used: a smell can be dark, bright, sharp, seet, bitter, harmonious smells can be personal emotional reactions: soothing, comforting, jarring, caring use of figures of speech such as metaphor, simile: the smell clawed at the nostrils, the smell was like a smooth sensation.
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  • Step Five Which Sense - Smell He drank the milk in the dark room and removed his boots. The smell of freshly turned earth was on them and combined with the musty air of the grain he'd been scattering. The old man smoked as was his custom, filling the room with a strong acrid aroma. He sat drawing at his pipe, the dulling, acrid smell mixing with a sweeter, sharper perfume. The sound of the grandfather clock ticked the minutes away and an ancient cat breathed a pungent breath of fish, newly eaten. Andy went up to bed with the stair creaking under his weight. He smelt Johnnie's earthy clothes, his sweaty, stale socks like rotted rope and putrid underpants, and, finally, the light, familiar aroma of a hand rolled cigarette. Example 5
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  • Step Five Which Sense - Smell With a partner write down all of the references to the sense of smell and explain how the writer has been successful.
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  • Step Six Which Sense - Taste There are many words to describe taste. You can be as creative in your approach when describing tastes as when describing smells (see previous page). Here are some words to get you started: alkaline, cheesy, burnt, crispy, vinegary, buttery, bland, raw, ripe, sour, spicy, hearty, hot, tasty, sweet, bittersweet, gingery, overripe, oily, fruity, fishy, sugary, salty, luscious, rotten, sour, spoiled, peppery, mellow, medicinal, bitter, tangy, greasy, delicious
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  • Step Six Which Sense - Taste Madeleine was now ready for dessert, the course she relished the most. She had eaten the gingery lemon soup with sour cream and thought it too tangy. The next course, mussels with seafood risotto: well, the mussels she found vinegary and the risotto was fishy, peppery and, due to too much oil, greasy. The next dish was an improvement - a crispy duck with burnt mushrooms and a spicy sauce with some ripe banana fried was a taste revelation! Dessert called her: she hoped for a buttery sponge with sweet custard and tangy fruit, as the menu promised. Example 6
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  • Its all in the Detail Layering the details and the sense descriptions A writer will very rarely focus on one sense at a time as the previous examples have done. (This is why it's a good idea to read to the end.) Writing your description with a mix of the senses is the usual approach. The reason for this is simple: it gives a richer, more complete picture of what is being described. To do this you can layer details on top of one another. This creates a series of related details that, taken together, create an image in your readers' minds.
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  • Its all in the Detail For example, in describing a room, you might start with its size, then describe the windows, the temperature, the colours, how the floor feels to touch, the sounds that can be heard from it, and finally how the air in the room smells. Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray begins with a description of an artist's room and garden. In this amended extract Henry Wotton is sitting in the studio of Basil Hallward, the artist. Wilde has focused on a layered description paying attention to the separate senses in detail.The Picture of Dorian Gray
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  • Its all in the Detail The studio was filled with the rich odour of roses, and when the light summer wind stirred amidst the trees of the garden, there came through the open door the heavy scent of the lilac, or the more delicate perfume of the pink-flowering thorn.


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