This piece comes from a blog written in 2015. Although it was written for authors and artists, readers of every background and profession may find points of interest...
SENSE MEMORY: Words for the Eye and Palette
The art of communication is largely reliant on visual and aural stimulation.
~ An author communicates with the written word.
~ A dancer creates a visual message with his or her body.
~ Actors and public speakers converse with the spoken word and their bodies.
In the past, the sense of touch helped to share the message of written words, as finely tooled leather-bound tomes invited the reader’s fingers to trace the lettering on a book cover. Even the sense of smell might be involved, as the carved leather fostered anticipation of the remarkable thoughts to be found within.
Today, all five of the senses of the writer’s audience may be involved through the tools of our multi-media civilization. Beyond the realm of streaming radio and audio books, there are audio messages being sent into space that may not be heard for thousands or even millions of years. We’re also at the brink of attempts at smell- or taste-athon forms of entertainment.
The goal of any communicator is to ensure that their readers, listeners, and/or viewers will respond positively to their message. Sometimes the process for achieving this is straightforward, even mechanical. At other times, the gathering of ingredients for connecting with one’s audience seems happenstance if not magical.
A successful advertising campaign is an example of how this process can work. Most of us are accustomed to extending our minds beyond a limited promotional image and message to the full experience enjoyed when actually partaking of the featured product or activity. Whether viewed in a full-page magazine ad or television commercial, the sight of a glistening golden turkey on a platter is expected to invoke memories of holiday feasts shared with our loved ones…rather than the reality of a studio of near-strangers focused on taking pictures of an artificial bird glued to a platter and painted with an oily brown glaze.
Sadly, the perception of truth can be more important than truth itself. For example, I recall being instructed about the art of opening doors, shaking hands and kissing on stage. I quickly learned that the natural ways of performing these tasks were irrelevant. The actors had to adjust their movements to make the audience feel comfortable with the actions necessary to theatrical performance.
To ensure our audience will be accepting of the images we have created, the artful wordsmith must do more than employ accurate vocabulary. This is one reason that translation of text from one language to another is so difficult. In fact, in addition to being an editorial process, it is a fine art. Merely selecting a word that correctly describes something does not make it a successful choice: The descriptive word you eventually choose must evoke the most appropriate image to both your genre and your audience.
Consider how you might employ the following words and phrases: Azure, blue, and sapphire; highlighted, revealed, and shone down upon; bright, luminescent, and sunny; juicy, moist, and succulent; boar, ham, and pig. Depending on the scene being described AND your audience, the text you compose from these words will differ. While the word blue may be appropriate for an advertisement, a children’s book and a romance novel, the same cannot be said for luminescent, azure, and succulent.
As adults with sophisticated English vocabularies, we may envision immediately the magical sparkle of a luminescent sky and the moist deliciousness of a pork loin described as succulent. However, these word choices would be inappropriate for a children’s book intended for a beginning reader. Our creative process may draw on a rich palette of images within our mind’s eye, but it must be tempered by the realities of the genre in which we are working.
Refining our writer’s palette is one of the most important authoring strategies we can employ, regardless of whether we are working on fiction or non-fiction projects. In my work as a practitioner of the art and science of writing, I seek to create a juncture between language and the sensory organs. I do this by striving to balance carefully chosen nouns and modifiers within an appropriate structure to provide my targeted audience with a rich sensory experience that they will accept within the current genre.
There is, of course, no right or wrong decision in the scenarios you create as a writer. The options are many. The choices are yours. But as you work on any project, consider the demographics, as well as the expressed responses of members of your audience. In the end, your word selections should be guided by determining the effect you wish to create in each passage…
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