My family and I just recently tried a local restaurant, Babes, famous in the area for down-home fried chicken and all the fixins served family style in a really homey setting. As soon as we walked in, the smell alone brought back memories of meals shared at my grandmother and grandfather’s house. The food was pretty yummy, but couldn’t quite compare of course to what I had growing up.
It is just remarkable how the smell or taste or sound or sight or feel of something can carry such a powerful memory. The smell of the food took me back to sitting in the kitchen while my grandmother fried chicken. I could have been sitting at the small table next to my Paw-Paw cutting up small bites of potatoes to boil and cream to go with the chicken, which by the way we always snuck a few bites of the raw potato when my grandmother wasn’t looking. Did anyone else ever do that? I could see the tomatoes fresh from the garden sitting on the shelf behind the kitchen sink that we might cut up to go with dinner or just sneak a bite of as a snack while we were waiting. I could hear the pop of the grease as my grandmother would put a new piece of chicken into the pan. I was back in those moments with just the little smell of the food at the restaurant.
When I write I have to be careful to remember details like the tomatoes on the shelf, or the kitchen sink facing a window that looks out to the garden, or the process of cutting up the potatoes. I don’t want to get lost in the details, but those type of little sensory details can help paint a much larger picture in a simple way that the reader may later color in with their own memories.
I could also fill in a character’s backstory with what he/she may remember based on a certain taste or smell or other sensory detail. Does the character deal with grief by listening to a song that he used to listen to with his wife? Does the character buy the house that is the setting for our story because the yard makes him think of the one he had growing up? Does the character hate the taste of beans because that’s all she ate growing up since beans and rice was all they could afford? Sensory triggers could be a starting point for a whole character sketch.
A solid go-to writing prompt can be taking one of the five senses and throwing it at your character. What is my character smelling in this scene? How does that smell affect her? Does the smell make her think of anything? It doesn’t have to be elaborate, but it could be. How might your character react to the taste of a dish offered to him? And why? Does your villain try to torment your character with the sound of a certain song? Why might that impact your character?
For me, I am going to think some more about the beauty of the simple moments like sitting in my grandparent’s kitchen and wish I could somehow take a time travel moment back in time to be with them again. Perhaps someday I will write about that. 😉
What sensory details always trigger memories for you? Is there a certain smell or taste that takes you back? Have you ever read something that really did a good job capturing a sensory detail? Do you try to include these details in your writing? I’d love to hear about it in the comments. 🙂
Thanks for stopping by. Have a great week!