In our regular Wednesday Top Drawer blogs, we been exploring the five senses which are so helpful when a writer wants to immerse readers in their stories. Sound, taste, touch, smell and sight are all basic tools in any storyteller’s toolkit.
In today’s 10 on the 10th, we’re offering up a few of the other senses that exist for human beings and which will be just as useful in your toolkit as you write and edit your work.
1. Original Five This is our go-to when working with writers in editing and workshops. It’s vital that all writers are conscious of the value of the senses in stirring connections for readers. The constant in writing is sight – it’s obvious because how else can you get readers to “see” what’s happening. But if you want your readers to feel character emotions, to recognize mood and tone, and to immerse themselves in the story instead of hovering above, successful writers use the other four basic senses.
But read on to discover nine other senses the complex human body has to contend with.
2. Proprioception. This is one sense you don’t really think about. Let’s test it: Go ahead. Close your eyes. Now touch your nose.
Your body uses three main things that help it with proprioception – skin, muscles and joints. These tell us where our body parts are in relation to the rest of us. With your eyes closed, you can find your nose with your finger, scratch an itch on your big toe, or clap your hands together because proprioception tells you where your arms, legs and head are positioned.
But what if you have a character whose proprioception is not working well? Bruises, bumps, trips and falls would be far more common.
3. Nociception: Ouch! This sense lets you know when you are in pain. That sensory system carries three main receptors: the skin, bones and joints, and your organs. When we feel pain, we recognize it. The greater the pain, the more it takes up our attention. But when it’s over, the intensity of it leaves us, fades and in some cases, is completely forgotten.
When you’re writing a scene that involves great pain, you have to recall moments in your life when you experienced it. Remember how your body felt – a cut on the skin is different from a twist of an ankle, smack against the skull from a baseball, or spasm in the gut from food poisoning.
4. Time: Oh my – have we been gone that long?Connected to our brain functions, time is being debated by science over whether this is a sense at all. They do agree, however, that our ability to sense time is stronger in younger people. But overall, science recognizes that humans are surprisingly accurate with measuring time. Our brains process time through the cerebral cortex, cerebellum and basal ganglia found deep in the brain.
So imagine what might happen to a world that has a shift in time, a shutdown of existence for a few seconds and then, back online. How would that mess with our sense of time? What would our world look like now?
5. Thermoception (external): Time to turn on the furnace, dear. This sense is our body’s ability to notice external temperatures.
6. Thermoception (internal): Can you take my temp because I feel like I’m burning up? This sense is our body’s ability to notice our body’s temperature.
Numbers 5 and 6 have the same name but they are two distinct senses. Our bodies have two separate hot & cold receptors, but we also have is a different type of thermoceptor in our brains to detect temperature. These thermoceptors in the brain are used for monitoring internal body temperature.
So what happens if one thermoceptor (say, the external) goes wonky. The body would feel internal heat but external heat would not exist? Wow. Talk about conflict in your writing.
7. Equilibrioception:Whoa! Where is up and where is down? Anyone who’s ever had vertigo, will know immediately how this unbalanced moment feels. The sense that let’s you keep your balance also is the sense that recognizes when things speed up and change direction. Astronauts in gravity-free space notice this sense the hard way when they return to Earth and, suddenly, gravity is back with a bang.
Buried inside your inner ears, this sensory system is the vestibular labyrinthine system. When you lose your balance, this system is where the search for balance is taking place. So without this system, a body cannot sense what is up and what is down. Besides the nausea, people with vertigo often shift into fear – the unknown takes over and distress sets in. Fortunately, for most, it’s a temporary condition. But when it’s not…
8. Magnetoreception Haven’t you always wondered how birds know to fly north in the spring and vice versa in the fall? Besides the fact that the temperature is changing, they know their direction from their ability to detect Earth’s magnetic field. It sets them off in the right direction each time.
We are not like birds, so we don’t have much in the way of magnetoreception. But it is there – experiments show we’re not entirely without a sense of north and south. There’s a theory that ferric iron deposits in our noses (our noses? really?) may be part of our sense of the magnetic field. It might be worthwhile to research magnetic implants. Some people implant magnets in their fingertips to gain sensory perception of magnetic fields. Now, THAT’S an interesting character, don’t you think?
9. Synesthesia:This sensory phenomenon is experienced by about 3% of the population, and most often people who experience it are born with it or develop it in early childhood. Synesthetes have a neurological condition in which information meant to stimulate one sense also stimulates another at the same time. I see numbers and words in colour; my granddaughter asked me to “turn down the music” on a painting I was doing.
Could a character who hears voices be a synesthete and not suffering from delusions as others think he is? Perhaps for the child who refuses to eat, it’s not disobedience, but the fact that this plate of food tastes “pointy” and hurts.
10. Extrasensory perception (aka – ESP or sixth sense):From mixed up senses in synesthesia to senses beyond the physical, ESP is sensing through the mind. Scientifically we don’t know much about the how and why of this sense, (yet) but many of us have experienced it or known someone who has.
It occurs often enough that we have many names for it: intuition, telepathy, psychometry, insight, clairvoyance, visions. That sense of retrocognition – knowing what went before, we often call déjà vu; precognition – knowing what is about to happen can be experienced in something as simple as knowing who is calling when the phone rings.
Literature is alive with this sense, from people who see and interact with ghosts to prophets or wise sages declaring destinies. But you can include it in small ways too, the chill some-one feels when a particular character approaches, or the dog who growls at a new visitor.