Thursday, April 14, 2011

Sensory Research

I've been thinking about an interesting discussion during critique in my RISD class this week, in which I encouraged two of my students to physically immerse themselves in the setting they were writing about, one to run barefoot through the woods, the other to dive to the bottom of a pool. I hoped this would help each of them to fully connect with their protagonist's experience, and open them even further to the language and rhythms that would bring each story to its full potential. This morning, I (somewhat unwittingly) took my own advice. 

I often run on the beach in the early hours, and I always have my camera at hand, my idea of the absolute perfect start to any day. My current picture book project involves a young gull in a puzzling predicament, and so off I set this morning in the hopes of capturing some early morning gull activity to use as reference material.

 My dog and I had the beach almost to ourselves. The light was stark and unearthly.

The sea was churning and roaring, and we had to jump and race the waves in places to pass.

Sanderlings darted along the shoreline.  

And I knew this was one of life's pure and perfect moments.

And then the sun rose. 

I'm aiming to get a gull's-eye-view in my illustrations, so I like to get down low. Also, I thought this seaweed was quite beautiful. 

By 7 am when it was time to leave, I realized I'd seen no gulls, not one. Which means I will happily be back there tomorrow morning. 

I may not have captured seagulls, but I immersed myself in the sensory experience of the beach, the visual, the sounds, the smells, the feel of the sand and the damp salty air on my skin, all things I look forward to using as I revise my text later today. 

And I realized that while my text has beach scents, textures, and visuals, it is (almost) lacking in the sounds of the beach. My challenge now is to capture the rhythm and feel of the ocean in the language I'm using, and I feel that IF I can achieve that, I will have done something I'll feel quite pleased about.

What about you? Do you immerse yourself in your settings and characters' experiences, or do
you 'wing it' with imagination and memory? 


  1. Wow, that really made me realize something about my novel. Beautiful photo's too!

  2. Great pics! I do try to get into my character's experience, but sometimes it's pretty tough when I'm writing about something I haven't experienced first-hand. I do research by watching YouTubes sometimes, and that can really help with that.

  3. I had a scene in my book where two cousins sneak out of the house early and take a boat across to an island - Well, this house and island were real places so that summer I convinced my cousin to get up at 5 am with me and take a boat across. It was an amazing experience! (And enhanced the scene in the book, too).

  4. Funny that you said your description lacks sound b/c when I looked at your pictures, my ears automatically filled in the sound of the surf and the birds. It was very noisy!

    As for my own writing, I try to visit places that remind me of scenes in my books. Fantasy genre does require a bit of flexibility, though. Dragons might feel like lizards, for example.