Sunday, May 5, 2013



"The song remembers when . . . " Trisha Yearwood sings on my Ipod.

We've all experienced the power of music to take us back to a place or time. A song can evoke vivid memories. It can take us somewhere we've been before. It appeals to one of our five senses - hearing.

I don't watch hockey, but when I flip through the TV channels and hear a few seconds of a hockey game, I am instantly ten years old again, in a house where Hockey Night at Canada was never missed by my brother and father.

The sense of hearing is a powerful way to connect your reader to your writing. It's not the only sense we should use. Smell, touch, taste and sight are effective tools as well. They create mood and atmosphere. They give your reader an emotional experience.

The smell of burning leaves takes me back to my childhood and our weekly yard clean ups in the fall. I smell the ocean and I remember lying on my stomach on a dock at Bowen Island, eight years old, fishing for shiners.  

What do you remember when you smell a Christmas tree? Baking scones? Perfume? When you touch a horse's mane? Damp leaves? When you taste a toasted marshmallow?
It's easy to fall back on the sense of sight when we write. It's the sense we use the most.  But it's worth making an effort to bring in the other senses as well.

When I wrote Ellie's New Home, I wanted my young readers to experience a time and place unfamiliar to them - Upper Canada in the 1800's.   After I'd written a few chapters, I made a chart, with columns for each of the five senses. I filled them in with my images. No surprise - the column for sight was full. Not much in the others. I went back through my draft and searched for places I could insert images using the other senses. A few of the images I came up with: cool rough tongue (kitten), barn door creaked, smelled like horses (neighbour), dusty ground, sweet and syrupy (molasses), thump of hands on dough (kneading bread).

My story came alive!

Some advice from Gary Provost in Make Your Words Work . . .

While you can't load every paragraph you write with sights, sounds and smells, you should return again and again to the senses to remind the reader that this written world is the same one he lives in. It sparkles, it roars, it rubs against him, and sometimes it stinks.


Poppy by Avi

This was always a favourite with my grade three and four classes. The kids were hooked on the first page - "At the very edge of this forest stood an old charred oak on which sat a great horned owl. The owl's name was Mr. Okax, and he looked like death himself." The story is full of wonderful characters - the mice with names like Poppy, Lungwort and Ragweed, and a hilarious porcupine called Ereth. There's plenty of action and an exciting climax.

Even better - Avi has written sequels!

Next week:  The Power of Books


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