Teachers Write 7/31 Tuesday Quick-Write

Good morning! Today’s Quick-Write is courtesy of guest author Lisa Schroeder. She’s the author of five young adult novels including THE DAY BEFORE and the upcoming FALLING FOR YOU, all with Simon Pulse. She’s also the author of the middle grade novels IT’S RAINING CUPCAKES, SPRINKLES AND SECRETS and the upcoming FROSTING AND FRIENDSHIP (Aladdin). You can find her on the web at www.lisaschroederbooks.com and on twitter at www.twitter.com/lisa_schroeder.

My grandparents lived on a farm and I spent a lot of time there as a child and a teen. I have lots of wonderful memories, as you can imagine. It wasn’t a working farm, but a farm where they had goats for milk and to keep the grass down and mules for their annual hunting trips in Eastern Oregon.

There is a special place in my heart for the farm and for my dear grandparents who are no longer with us, and so, it’s always thrilling when I’m somewhere, not thinking about it at all, and I get a whiff of something that takes me back to that place. Have you ever noticed how smells have the ability to elicit strong memories? It’s pretty amazing, and I love it when it happens and brings up a happy memory from the farm. It might happen when our family visits the apple farm every fall or when or when I’m walking and the air has a certain grassy scent and I’m suddenly back there, hanging on to the tire swing that hung from the big, old willow tree.

Today I’d like you to think about smells and sounds. Adding in sensory details is often something you do as you revise, but here’s an exercise you can do anytime, that will help when you’re ready to read through your manuscript with an eye on the details.

 List three places your character visits in the story. For example: school, grandma’s house, and the zoo.

Now, with those three places, start brainstorming things your character might smell while there. Get creative! Imagine the people who are nearby as well as what that specific place may smell like. Don’t limit yourself to only good smells or only bad smells. Try and find both. At first, you may have trouble describing the scent in detail, and that’s okay. Don’t edit yourself, just write your thoughts down. When you have a bunch of possibilities, then you can start working on how you describe the various smells. It’s not always easy, I know. You probably won’t use the entire list, but if you can come up with one or two good descriptions, you’ll find it adds a lot to your scenes.

Also brainstorm sounds your character might hear. In some cases, you will struggle to get a couple. But in other places, you will be able to get a lot. It’s those places where you want to make sure you add in some of those details to make the experience as rich for your reader as it is for your character.

 This is a great exercise you can do just about anywhere – take a notebook along when you’re taking your kids to an appointment, and work on your lists while you wait.

 Have fun awakening your senses and happy writing!

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8 Comments

  1. Posted July 31, 2012 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    Lisa,

    Thank you for the mini-lesson. I looked back through my WIP and pulled out parts that need more sensory details (especially, smells and sounds). I found that I need more details for the beach, Grandma’s house, and the hospitall. These are places that I could easily add sounds and smells. Here is one little excerpt that I am going to fix:

    We exit McDonald’s and head south down Route 904 towards Pelican Island. A light mist forms on the windshield. The ocean air is visible, even three miles from the Atlantic Ocean. The late afternoon traffic is light for us, but heavy on the other side of the road as day-only beach visitors are leaving the beach and heading home for dinner. We pass the old, wooden sign that reads, “Thank you for visiting Calabash, North Carolina. Come back again soon!” This means we are only a mile from the Pelican Island Beach Bridge. Four weeks of boredom at Grandma’s house is about to begin.

    I have my three places to brainstorm sounds and smells to add. I’m off to the beach, which is fitting because I need to add beach details, with the kids and hoping to brainstorm after castle building and wave riding.:) Thank you again!

    BTW – Loved It’s Raining Cupcakes – Passed it along to many students!

    • Posted July 31, 2012 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

      Isn’t it great when we can do fun research for our stories? I am envious – would love to be at the beach today. Hope you have a wonderful day!!

  2. Posted July 31, 2012 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    Great exercise, Lisa!

    I did something similar with my writing camp kids this summer, and it was a big hit. The kids described places that were important to them using as many sensory details as possible, then shared what they wrote. The results were astounding. Brought up some interesting memories for the young campers and their older counselors, too.

    And, if I haven’t already said so, I love your novels!

    • Posted July 31, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

      Thank you Donna. I agree, this is a great exercise for kids as well. Especially because kids often have trouble thinking of details to add when they are writing, but they are often thinking only about what can be seen.

  3. Posted July 31, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, Lisa! I love these writing prompts. Here’s my attempt:

    Our place smells non-dusty, like there’s nothing there. How can a place smell like things aren’t there? I’m not sure, but it does. Maybe because nothing is there, no furniture so to speak. All that removal of stuff lets the outside sounds take up residence: car horns, people talking in different languages as they pass by, lawn mowers. They all figure since no one is using the place, they might as well move in and take over.

    Melvin’s house smells entirely different. Even though it’s packed with stuff, really expensive stuff, it also has no smell, like it’s been cleaned to within an inch of it’s life, all the germs and human smells removed and discarded. There’s always music playing–really low, like the kind you hear in a movie and you hardly know it’s there. It almost has a scent, sort of lemony. I think it’s a way to freshen up the place.

  4. Posted July 31, 2012 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

    You caught me in the perfect spot for some smells in my WIP. The MC just walked in to her grandmother’s house.

    Mae Mae’s house always smells like the food she is presently cooking. I close my eyes and try to guess.

    “Mae Mae, you cookin’ fried catfish and corn maque choux?” The fried fish is the loudest smell, but there is a faint scent of steamed corn, fresh from the stalk, and spiced tomatoes. The cornhusks sticking out of the garbage can give me another hint.

    “Baby doll, you are a good guesser. Now what you think I got for dessert? Can you smell that yet?”

    “Hmm,” I raise my nose higher and walk toward the kitchen sink. The bowl catches my eyes and my nose. “Is it my favorite? Brownies?”

    “You got it. And I saved the bowl for you to lick.”

    • Posted July 31, 2012 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

      Nice work!!

      Isn’t the smell of brownies one of the best smells in all the world? 🙂 Mmmm…

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