When the imagination is sluggish, it sometimes pays dividends to take it by the hand and lead it towards creativity. This writing exercise has worked for me in the past. It can seem a little time-consuming when all you have to show for it at the end is a paragraph of text, but I have found the mini-brainstorms on the senses useful in other places. For example…
Blue sky – azure blue, the Maldives, a hot summer’s day, an icy winter’s day, white puffy clouds like cotton wool.
A car park – red cars, blue cars, large and small, dirty and clean, cars for two people and cars for six, Polish man pushing a trolley ‘wash your car today?’, pennies for the parking ticket machine
Waiting in line at the bus stop – schoolgirl with heavy bag of books eating a packet of crisps, an elderly lady with bulging plastic bags at her feet, a teenage boy in jeans sits on the bench playing a game on his mobile phone, a man in a blue uniform with a clipboard writes something down as the bus approaches
Looking down a stairwell – floor after floor below, vertigo, more floors above, like being in a construction sandwich, the balustrade swirls downwards in a spiral to the ground floor, don’t lean forwards, don’t fall down
Shopping for clothes – racks and racks of blouses, the jeans section, the shoe section, the work suits section, always white shirts but no green, I like green, where do I go to try it on, where do I go to pay, bright lights and lots of signs, too many signs, discount, special offer, join our membership rewards scheme here.
Frying bacon – chunks of rock salt, granules, fine salt, grinder, gritty like sand, greasy pan, don’t like meat, chewy flesh, pork, pig
Petrol – blue, green, yellow rainbow of sharp-edged colours in petrol spilt in a pool of water on a petrol station forecourt, chemical, fumes
Rose – soft cushion, duvet, enveloping, comforting, caressing, petals, bath oil, old rose, rose and peony, summer
Disinfectant – accident, spillage, masking the smell of something nasty, artificial smell, clean
Burning wood – bonfire night with Guy on top, searing heat in the face, watery eyes from the smoke, warmth, crackle
Sea air – fresh, clear, healing, problem-solving, blue, bracing, salty
Tree bark – rough dead skin, tree shedding skin like a snake, renewal
Oil – never-stopping flow of oil through an engine, lubricating dry parts, slicking, licking, greasy, oily, stickiness.
Paper – dry flat surface, no indentations of life, perfect surface, untouched by trauma, immature smoothness
Skin – intimate warmth, trust, sharing, baby softness, wrinkles, youth and age, freckles, imperfections, laughter lines
Snowflakes – hard, bitter cold on the face, like being stung by icy wasps
A strand of hair – genetic, DNA, identification, individual imprint, each hair contains a DNA barcode, off a hairbrush, coarse or fine, thin and fluffy
Rain falling – wet, drizzle, shooshing sound, silent, drumming
High wind – speed, top C whining through the trees like a call to action
A scream – of alarm, of joy, of birth, primal scream, identity/recognition of someone’s voice, cry for help, frozen in time, a snapshot of a second, a nice surprise, a terrible shock
Someone calling my name – instinctive reaction, it’s me, attention, but the shout could be for someone else with the same name, I’m here
Nightingale singing – sings at night, at dawn, at dusk, singing to itself or to someone else? Up and down the scales like piano practice, trilling, fluting, warbling
Children shouting – playing after school, fun time, wailing, screeching, too loud, having fun, playing chase, be quiet
Chocolate – like bathing in warm silk, smooth, creamy, dark and crunchy
Medicine – spitting, bitter, it is good for you, cruel medicine, like swallowing bile, must swallow it
My favourite food [eggs cooked any way] – familiar, comfort, reassuring, warmth, security
Salt – thirst, the sea, sea air, the beach
Peppermint – clean teeth, plaque killer, old ladies, mint tea
Freshly-squeezed orange juice – like drinking the sunshine, orange the colour, orange the flavour, bitty or smooth, vitamin C
Take one image for each group, and write one paragraph. You have 15 minutes. I wrote this paragraph:-
She’s gone and I miss the softness of her handcream-soothed hand patting mine in approval of some small triumph at school. I miss the minty smell of her breath, a legacy of her addiction to Extra Strong Mints and Colgate. I miss her laugh, the nervous titter that punctuated the end of inappropriate sentences. She’s gone but the void she left is still there, even though its six months since she died. Six months, and I hate the fact that her face is fading. I reach for a favourite snapshot, she’s frozen in time, screaming with laughter at Morecambe & Wise. When I was six she took me to Skegness on holiday, as a treat, without my parents. I’d argued with Mum and Gran had rescued me and revived my spirits with blue sky, such a deep blue I didn’t know it existed until then. She repaired me with laughter and fresh air and early nights. I breathed the salty air, my wheezing faded and by Thursday I didn’t stop to check my pockets for clean hankies as we left the hotel to go to the matinee performance at the Grand Theatre.
I kept this in a notebook, and used it years later as the starting point for my portrayal of an elderly Russian lady, Darya, in my second novel Connectedness [published in 2017].
And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
Writing exercise: the five senses http://wp.me/p5gEM4-kC #writingtips via @SandraDanby