Lately I’ve been re-reading the book A Natural History of the Senses by Diane Ackerman. It’s a fairly remarkable book that explores each of the five senses—sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. It’s reminded me of just how necessary it is to include sensory details in our journaling.
Well, first consider this thought from Ackerman’s book:
There is no way in which to understand the world without first detecting it through the radar-net of our senses. . . [they] don’t just make sense of life in bold or subtle acts of clarity, they tear reality apart into vibrant morsels and reassemble them into a meaningful pattern.
It is through our senses that we understand and experience the world—so when we include sensory details in our journaling, we help the person reading it experience what we are writing about (a trip to the zoo, a moment in time, a birthday celebration, an injury, a funny story) along with us.
Sensory details (words that describe how something looks, tastes, sounds, feels, or smells) bring an immediacy to journaling that cannot come in any other way. They help readers to imagine something similar to what is in your head, because they also add specifics: a flower can be pretty, for example, but how do you see "pretty" in your head? But if the flower is violet, with a tinge of green on the tips and a delicate scent like powdered sugar—you can start to imagine that flower. (I'd like to plant it in my yard!)
When you are thinking about your journaling, spend some time on the sensory details. A carnival, for example, wouldn’t be a carnival without its alluring and mysterious combination of scents—the hot smell of the grease on the rides’ gears, someone’s cigarette smoke and someone else’s sun screen and, underlining everything, the sweetness of cotton candy.
"Smell," wrote Helen Keller, "is a potent wizard that transports us across thousands of miles and all the years we have lived." Though it might be the truest for smell—which is the sense most closely associated with memory in our brains—it goes for the others as well. Engage the reader’s and you bring her along whatever miles or years you need to in order to get to the one experience you’re describing.
Most of the time, sensory details are woven into the fabric of the writing, like here:
In this layout’s journaling, the sensory details include touch (warm, silky, squishy), sight (the twinkly lights that sparkle off glittery ornaments), and scent (the dusty air from the heater). They help tell the story without being the point of the story.
Other times, you might try writing just about the sensory details, like Aliza did in this layout about the textures she discovered during a trip to Israel. I love how her photographs, supplies, and design all connect with her journaling—which includes touch and sight—in a thematic way.
In my layout, I wanted to focus just on the scents that go along with autumn:
Writing about the sensory details is a great way to develop journaling for photos you're not sure what to journal about. They help your journaling sparkle—but the thinking and writing itself will help you remember more than you think. So that's today's Write. challenge:
Grab a photo or a group of photos you want to scrap but aren't sure how to journal about.
Spend a few minutes thinking about either the textures or the scents associated with something from the photos.
Write some journaling that focuses on those sensory details.
As always, I'd be delighted if you linked us up to your words and stories.