There’s a bakery in Monrovia that has my attention. The Buzz. Have you heard of this place? Correction: How have you not heard of this place?
The words at First Sight come to mind. Three simple words implying an instant reaction. But there’s more to them. There’s more to this bakery than what you see. There’s all the ingredients for making a good story.
Our senses include sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell. They evoke emotion. They help us make decisions about whether we like something or not. They are also powerful tools writers use. Senses can take a reader from scanning the text to experiencing a story. They make a reader cry, laugh, cringe, and get angry.
How does a writer do this?
Begin with sight—the most straightforward of the senses to describe a scene. A character draws from objects around her. What does she see upon entering The Buzz? Witty signs posted on the walls. I don’t have a problem with caffeine, I have a problem without it. Mugs hang from racks. Cookbooks stacked on the counter. Chairs seated with customers. Trinkets of mini fudge brownies next to the register. A chalkboard sign showcasing specialty custom cakes like Coconut Pineapple with Pina Colada or Carrot Spice with Cream Cheese. A display case full of baked goods drizzled with icing and nuts. A line of guilty pleasure pastries and muffins sit on the counter next to the triple berry scones. Paper menus are printed bi-weekly as the food options change. Tables are full except for the one in the corner.
You see the environment. You form a picture of what this place looks like. The Buzz is all about pleasing the eye with catchy decor and food to match.
But what does our character hear? What does she smell? Background noise, music, uneasy silence? A visual description alone won’t give the reader the full image. Which is why sound and smell are critical to building a scene. What our character smells will impact her level of hunger and her mood. She breathes in hints of sugar and spices. The smell triggers another time she was here with that guy who ended up breaking her heart. Her stomach rumbles. A crack forms in her heart. The noise helps her to refocus. People engrossed in conversations. A group of three men laugh like they’ve known each other forever. Pots and pans clang in the kitchen. The employee behind the counter finalizes a sale and the cash register drawer opens and closes with a thud.
We haven’t tasted the food but our senses are expanding. What does she order?
Build on the story with taste. She orders two scones. Strawberry-banana and walnut. She overhears the owner telling someone to try the Hot Chocolate Bundt Cake and she thinks, Why not? She orders a slice for herself.
One might be tempted to write her reaction like this:
- The Bundt cake is a sweet and delicious mix of chocolate and marshmallow topping. The flavors are wonderful. The cake is warm and melts in her mouth.
Oh no. That’s not going to leave the reader panting for a piece of cake. So let’s step this up. Elevate these sentences to something more. A reader should close the book and run to her kitchen to find something equally as satisfying. Second take:
- The enormous slice of Hot Chocolate Bundt cake is big enough for two, maybe even three. Rich and gooey doesn’t begin to do this mass of chocolate indulgence justice. Warm, toasted marshmallow topping mixed with chocolate coats the top. She sticks her fork into the moist cake and brings it to her lips. She’s salivating before the sugary, sticky, decadent, moist cake greets her mouth like a kiss. Oh my God. Is all she can say. She immediately inhales the next bite.
A scene transforms by adding touch. The character isn’t just reading the menu. Her palm touches the smooth paper. She runs her hand over the stack of cookbooks on the counter. Their spines are smooth and hard. She goes to her table. The manager brings her a cup of coffee with cream on the side. The handle of the small pitcher is smooth against her fingers. Methodically, she stirs her coffee. The caffeine flavor excites her taste buds. The place is warm. Her body responds to the physical objects around her.
A romance-length novel is 80,000 words (in case you’re wondering). There are many pages to fill.Write using all the senses. Don’t be tempted to create sentences based on only what you see. Step inside the mind of a character. Try The Buzz. Order from their all-day breakfast and lunch menu. Sit awhile. You’ll find all the ingredients of a place worthy of our character’s time—and yours.
11801 Fingerboard Road
Monrovia, MD 21770