Teachers Write 7/8/13 Mini-Lesson Monday with Donna Gephart

Hi there! I hope everyone had a fantastic holiday weekend and is back, ready to write this morning!  Today’s guest author is Donne Gephart!

Donna’s humorous middle grade novels from Random House include:  As If Being 12-3/4 Isn’t Bad Enough, My Mother Is Running for President!, How to Survive Middle School and Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen.  Her new novel, Death by Toilet Paper, comes out August 2014.  Many resources for student and adult writers are available at:  http://www.donnagephart.com


Making Sense of Sensory Writing

Did you know 80% of our brain’s energy is used to process what we see?  80%!  If you ever want to rest your brain, close your eyes.  (But not while driving!)

While writing, we tend to rely mainly on our sense of sight and ignore our other four senses.  We should pay attention to all our senses when writing, especially during the most important scenes – the ones we want to slow down for our readers.

Here are examples of writers using sensory description other than sight: 

TOUCH:  From Holes by Louis Sachar – During the summer, the daytime temperature hovers around ninety-five degrees in the shade—if you can find any shade.  There’s not much shade in a big dry lake. 

(Temperature and texture are good ways to use the sense of touch.)

TASTE:  From Crystal Allen’s How Lamar’s Bad Prank Won a Bubba-Sized Trophy:  . . . to be nice, I take a handful and stuff them in my mouth.  Man, these peanuts are off the chain!  They’re sweet and salty and remind me of Mom’s snack mix.

She holds the bowl up.  “Take some more, baby.  Aren’t they good?”

SOUND:  From Saint Louis Armstrong Beach by Brenda Woods:  Almost like a whisper, I heard someone calling out my name. . . . Then, four times in a row, “Saint, Saint, Saint, Saint,” each time louder, a girl’s voice, until finally she stood right in front of me.  “Saint!” she screeched.

SMELL:  From Small as an Elephant by Jennifer Richard Jacobson:  Clothes dryer – that’s what the tent smelled like:  a trapped-heat smell that filled his nostrils and told him the sun was high.

Smells, in particular, are a powerful way to access memories.  The scent of your mother’s favorite flower.  The odor of your father, after a day’s work.  The smell of grandma’s soup bubbling on the stove.  The sharp stink of a science experiment gone wrong. 


Time to write:  Think of a memory triggered by a smell, sound, taste or touch and write about it.   Use as many sensory details as you can while writing.  Those sensory details will help your readers experience your scene more deeply.  Those will help recreate the mood of your memory.

 Every time I do this exercise, I’m brought back to my childhood kitchen with my mother cooking at the stove or to our holiday dinners, brimming with aunts, uncles and cousins and smells by the dozens.  Someone once wrote about the taste of blood and sweat at his local boxing gym.  Another young woman wrote about the smell of her school lunchroom, where as a kindergartener, she was made to sit until she finished her lunch.  (She sat through every single lunch period — as every grade from K-8 sat, ate and left — before being allowed to leave, her lunch still uneaten.)

 Who knows what YOU will come up with?  And who knows where it might lead? 

Happy writing trails . . .  

Note from Kate: Feel free to share a little of what you wrote today in comments – and remember that even when Gae and I aren’t around to respond, you can cheer one another on with replies!

Need more inspiration? Check out Jo’s Monday Morning Warm-Up.

Today, we’ll be giving away a copy of Donna’s funny book OLIVIA BEAN, TRIVIA QUEEN to one person who replies to someone else’s writing!


104 Replies on “Teachers Write 7/8/13 Mini-Lesson Monday with Donna Gephart

  1. I fluff my soft pillow under my head and pull the well-worn blanket around me a little tighter. A sliver of light glows through the crack of my almost-closed doorway. The house is almost silent, except for the drone of the baseball announcers on the living room T.V. While I can’t make out what they are saying the sudden change of inflection in their voices announces new action in the game. The outcome of the game is no matter to me. At five years old, I haven’t taken much of an interest in baseball yet. Instead, those steady, reliable voices lull me to sleep, and that sliver of light in the doorway keeps the monsters under the bed at bay.

    1. Your writing really brings your character’s fears and sense of security to life. The sounds make the scene real to the reader. Well done!

    2. I noticed that your opening sentences really set the scene. While your last sentence provides some sensory details that made me connect with the character. Thanks for sharing!

    3. This was really good. I could sense the grogginess of the young child in between sleep and awake but safe in the fact that there was that sliver of light and someone was in the house with her.

  2. A very quick sensory/memory write before I hit the rode for 8 hours.

    Every now and then I catch a whiff. That acrid sweet cherry smell meets my nostrils and it feels like a fist is thrust into my chest. And then I remember. My father and his pipe. Mostly playing with it – a gentle, thump, thump, thump as he tamps down the tobacco in the bowl. The silvery metal tool he uses glistens in the sun as we are walking by the river. Or sometimes the bowl is unlit and my father would mouth the stem, with a contented smile on his face as he beamed at my daughters. Every now and then I catch a whiff and I catch a moment with my dad.

    1. Truly lovely. I love how smells invoke memory so strongly and bring back people you love sometimes so strongly that it does physically hurt. This feels meaningful and real. Safe driving!

    2. I like how the smells and sounds vividly come first, and the visual of dad comes later. Thanks for sharing, Jennifer.

    3. This brought back memories for me of my uncle and the sweet smell of his pipe. Although, I never actually saw him smoke it, I could always smell the scent in the air when he was around. It takes me back, also.

    4. Very powerful! I liked the repetition of the word “catch” in the last sentence.

    5. This post really captured my senses, too! I have always loved that warm cherry pipe tobacco scent—ah, memories! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Okay…I did it! I haven’t completed an assigned writing piece for over 20 years, but I have great inspiration.

    She opened the door and knew it was going to be bad. The morning was still wet, even though the sun was coming out and there was that unmistakable earthy, dankness that certain mornings have…of worms. She knew they would be randomly arranged on the sidewalk, trying not to drown in the soil, making the walk to school like a video game of avoidance.
    “Mom! Do I have to walk to school? Worms! They’re everywhere!” Lily yelled in a hopeful, yet slightly whiny voice.
    “Lily, you know they’re not going to hurt you and they’re good for the earth. They aerate the soil and help the plants.”
    “Enough with the earth lovin’ lectures,” she thought. She’d get no support there. So off she went, eyes carefully eyeing the black pitch of the driveway. “The only worms I like are gummy,” she grumbled quietly.

    1. Oh how I remember those worms after a rain. I had the same feelings about them. My sister used to drop them down my top. Took me back to my childhood.

    2. Stephanie, I could so relate to this too! Growing up in rainy Portland, Oregon, the sidewalks on the way to school would be loaded with them! The best writing pulls a reader right in like that! Agreed, great opening sentence.

    3. Stefanie,
      I got a kick out of your wormy bit. Worm days are happy days as kids. I still remember picking them up out of the gutter bare handed. Won’t catch me doing that nowdays. That’s not true, I still do, but I wash well afterwards.

  4. I love how this prompt often brings us back to our childhoods. Powerful first sentence, Stefanie. I’d forgotten that worm walk to school. Ugh! Makes me think of Doreen Cronin’s excellent picture book, Diary of a Worm. Jennifer, I could smell that pipe smoke. Great job! Kerri, lovely. Just lovely!

  5. My daughters and I are driving in the car anticipating the moment. We see the huge white water tower and know that it is time to open the windows. We all open the windows and take in a deep breath, drawing into our bodies the smell of the salty, ocean air. Smiles widen across our faces. We can smell the beach that we will soon be spending the day at. I am immediately transported back to my grandparent’s beach cottage. I remember being a young child and waking up to the smell of the salty, ocean air and the peaceful sound of the ocean waves crashing against the shore. I remember opening my eyes to the start of a new day and hearing the rhythmic pattern of ocean waves pounding against the shore and then swooshing back into the sea. I loved starting my day by listening to the waves coming in and the waves going out. I would try to count the number of crashes against the shore. I would anticipate riding those waves later in the day. The joy of feeling the power of the ocean transport me to shore. The smell of the beach and the sound of ocean waves bring peace, smiles, and treasured memories.

    1. We all know the smell of the beach. It may not be a pleasant scent, but it is strong and creates strong memories. I love to listen to the waves and enjoy your counting of the crashes.

    2. Wow. Is there any scent that is so tied to memories as the tang of an ocean breeze, part salt, part ocean creatures, and decomposing kelp in the sun. Nothing like it. Loved reading your piece. It took me to my own childhood experiences at the Oregon coast. (Oh and the sounds too!)

    3. “The smell of the beach and the sound of ocean waves bring peace, smiles, and treasured memories.” – You nailed it! Excellent description with a solid use of sensory details.

      Thank you for sharing!

  6. I opened my WIP to find a section where scent is strong and revised for more details. Thanks for this exercise. It amazes me that every time I open the file, I improve the writing.
    Elizabeth Kay calls us over to see her herb garden. She names them for us, rosemary, mint, oregano, basil. If we pinch the leaves with our fingers, the scent will linger on our skin. The lavender is my favorite. Elizabeth Kay places a stem topped with tiny purple blossoms in my hair. I smell the strong fragrance when I breathe in.
    Before I know it, Harmony takes a few mint leaves and puts them into her mouth and starts to chew.
    “No, don’t eat them, Harmony. Just smell them.”
    “It’s OK, Blessen,” Elizabeth Kay says in a calm voice. “They can’t hurt you. Mint is actually quite tasty. I put the leaves in my tea.”

    1. I’ve just started to garden herbs this summer so I felt a connection to this excerpt that I might not have as my experiences beforehand would have been limited to the kinds of herbs that come in a shaker bottle, neatly alphabetized in the pantry. But what I like about this excerpt is that it captures the innocence and the unawareness that this is really where herbs come from. . .from the earth. To be smelled. Savored. And sometimes chewed. I have Orange Mint and Chocolate Mint to plant this morning. Thank you for sharing this.

    2. Hi Margaret – I really enjoyed this. I liked that the kids weren’t just smelling the herbs, but pinching them and tasting them, too. It is a great blend of sensory detail and character interaction. (P.S. I find myself thinking about chewing mint leaves.)

    3. Nice. I just brought a rosemary bush to work this morning to see if I can baby it indoors. I love that smells it gives off when you run your fingers over its leaves. Thanks for sharing.

    4. I, too, have been amazed at how these writing prompts have really helped move my WIP along! Loved this, Margaret. I have been taking care of a friend’s garden while she is out of town, and the herb garden is my favorite section. Really lovely writing as it puts me right there–I can almost smell that lavender! with

  7. My high school had a dining hall reminiscent of Hogwarts. Each Sunday evening, I had the responsibility with a classmate from France of tending the room’s candles. We wheeled bockety metal carts up and down the aisles of the refectory, collecting two candles from each long wooden table. When new, each candle was the same size as my boy arm and sat in a heavy pewter holder half that length. A glass cuff sometimes clotted with wax ringed the top of each candle, to shore up the melting process against the room’s drafts. We clattered our full carts through the kitchen, past the mildewy dishwashing room, to a closet in the back of the building. There, behind a door latched like a walk-in refrigerator, were boxes upon boxes of new candles, along with a few undented holders and trays of pristine wind protectors. Lethargy overtook us – I blame the waxy, stuffy air, which turned us into albums played at too slow a speed. Sluggishly, we substituted fresh candles for the stubbiest, cleaned the crustiest cuffs or replaced any chipped ones, and buffed the most tarnished holders. When we finally left the closet, wheeling the freshened candles back to the dining hall, the whole world seemed brighter and crisper, as if unwrapped from dingy gauze. We took great gulps of air, enjoying its coolness in our throats.

    1. I loved this, because it took me by surprise! Clearly, this wasn’t just any school. I loved the unexpectedness and strong imagery. Living in an old house myself, I inserted my own experiences with mustiness and mildew as I walked with you past the dish washing room!

    2. Brian, as soon as I began reading your piece, I could immediately \”smell\” the candles along with you. It is amazing how picking the right detail immediately pulls your reader into your description because their own familiarity with the sensory detail makes them trust your scene.

    3. I love the word “bockety” – I’ve never heard it before, but it immediately reminded me of rickety and gave me a connection to the creakiness and age of the carts.

  8. The sound of crickets always makes me feel sad. Sad in a wistful, letting-go-of-a-really good-thing kind of way. You see, crickets always begin to sing, really sing, just at that quiet, tired part of the summer. You know, when you’ve read all your books, you’ve seen all the summer movies, when the sidewalk wafts of baked on bubblegum, and the lush, fresh scent of early summer lawns has been traded for hay smell of their spent dried remains. Crickets sing when the neighborhood feels kind of empty because everyone has left town to beat the heat, and every TV commercial shows crazed parents in office supply stores stocking up on back to school sales, in anticipation of getting kids back to school. It’s not that I don’t like school, because I do. I like seeing my friends, getting back into routines. But crickets herald of impending loss. The loss of summer, and the joy of waking up in the hinting heat of a blue skied, open-ended, day of possibility that is yours for the filling. Sum-mer’s o-ver! Sum-mer’s o-ver! That’s what crickets sing.

    1. Wow. I could feel the sadness in your words. I never thought of crickets that way, but I think you’re right. I hear them more at the quiet part of the summer and it usually means we are coming to the end of the relaxing time, before routines and school. Really nice job.

    2. Although I’m pretty sure this is supposed to be the perspective of a teen, you’ve nailed the teacher feeling too…once we get past the glorious it’s finally here feeling to the signs of the end of freedom before chaos. I love how you’ve used sound as the major “herald”, nice word, for summer ending in a Dandelion Wine Ray Bradburyish kind of way!

    3. WOW, I’ve never associated the songs of crickets with loss but you made me a believer. Great job.

    4. I love how you set “summer’s over” to the cricket’s chirp. Very clever!

  9. I slip silently out the door, a cup of coffee in one hand and a quilt in the other. Wrapped in the quilt I take my place in the chair at the edge of the porch waiting for the sun to rise and cast its warm glow on the pasture below. I catch a hint of the cows below that I can’t yet see. The smell of wet grass, fresh earth and manure mixed together. I hear my mother-in-law before I see her. “Ewwww, I hate that smell.” I smile at her and take another sip of my coffee feeling the heat from it warm my insides as a chill breeze blows over me. She sits next to me. “How can you stand to sit here and breathe in such a putrid smell?” I don’t respond. It takes me back to my days on our farm. The smell of the animals, straw, corn, fresh mud and wet grass. Heaven is what I think. I smile as I watch the bats returning from their nightly outing and watch the cows saunter across the pasture toward the barn where shortly they will be fed. My peaceful reminiscing is shattered by the beeping of a horn and the mooing of cows that have broken in a run, racing to be the first to the feed trough. The sun reaches higher and I see the mountains in the distance with fog laying like smoke in the valleys between. A rooster crows somewhere telling the world it is time to wake up. Time to feel the warmth of the day. Time to sing with the birds. Time to live.

    1. Beautifully written. I wish I was sitting out there right now with my cup of coffee. I instantly knew the smell and feel of what was being described and I could feel myself relax. Then with the horn honking, I knew that sad moment when the “magic” moment was gone. Great work!

  10. In my short years, I have never been to Holland. I’ve never seen a real windmill. But I imagine they probably look just like the one I am holding in my hand, having slipped another cookie from the package on the table.

    I imagine they must smell like this, and how people who do live in Holland probably walk up to them and smell them when no one is looking.

    Perhaps the walls of windmills have stones that look like the slivers of almonds here and there. And one window without glass directly in the center.

    This cookie I hold in my hand is the only example I’ve ever had of an actual windmill. As I bite into this one, I wonder if this is how a windmill might sound as it falls during some summer storm, the same that took our woodshed, a thousand small boards scattered about the property, the boards smelling like wind. Like rain. Like dirt.

    1. I love the images in this, like people walking up and smelling windmills when no one is looking. That makes me laugh, but in the way of recognizing a secret silly thing I would do. I really like the last lines. The staccato feel of the last short lines. I love too, how it is like a thought poem. My mind works like that…running off on a tangent sparked by an object. I enjoyed this little piece, Paul. (And I also love those windmill cookies). Alas my only experience of them is in the rickety metal ones that tower over the prairies with their particular whine and clank as they move, or the clunky wooden ones that grace people’s yards without any of the soul of a real one.

    2. I love how you can imagine all about windmills from a cookie. So many nice sensory details. And I can smell the boards as they fall, that earthy smell of wind and rain and dirt. Thanks for sharing.

    3. What a neat contrast between the windmill cookie and the woodshed falling down in a summer storm. The sounds and smells of both the cookie and the summer storm were so clear to me, it was like a little vacation. Thank you!

  11. Inspiration

    Fresh cut grass. Bourbon. Salty air. The beach. Like a time-lapse movie, all those scented images flood my mind while I collapse into his arms. My face finds his clean-shaven neck. I am home. The breeze teases me with his scent, and my breathing slows. I move in closer resting my hand on the wrinkled linen shirt casually pulled on after our walk on the sand. I allow my eyes to close as the sun waves goodnight and disappears below the horizon. I’m left only with the cool breeze and his warm hands, both caressing my legs. He lets out a prolonged peaceful sigh and the breath of the ocean sways the porch swing lulling us to sleep.

    1. Laura, I love this scene. You have painted a VERY clear picture in my mind, a picture so vivid that I let out a “peaceful sigh” The wrinkled linen shirt, waving sun, caress, and the “breath of the ocean” swaying the porch swing are real gems.

  12. As I left the school building wind and snow blew furiously around me. Walking home the stinging snow and whirling winds greeted me at every corner and my fingers and toes were ice cold. When I finally reached home and turned the knob I was transported to a new world. Bright lights, warmth, and delicious smells greeted me at the door. Was it soup cooking on the stove and cookies baking in the oven? I immediately felt warm and happy.

  13. Today, I didn’t use my WIP, I just thought about something that always brings back memories for me. Here’s what I came up with.

    Memories come in all shapes and sizes, but the best ones you can taste. As I am looking through my books on the dingy classroom shelves, I come to one of my old favorites. The Root Cellar. Pulling it off the shelf carefully, I wipe the thin layer of dust off the top. The cover is worn and has many creases in it from years of being read. I have owned this book for over 20 years, yet it still holds mystery. As I flip the yellowed pages, there is a faint musty smell. No matter, it brings back the memory of fall afternoons filled with a cool crisp breeze. Instantly I am transported back to my parent’s kitchen table. I can taste the hot bagels topped with sauce and melted cheese. Sitting in the hard kitchen chair for almost an hour didn’t bother me. I had my after school snack and my book. The book that could transport me to another time and place, and with this one, it had 2 different places to take me. One of my first experiences with time travel. As I munched my way through the bagels, I was brought into another world. Those are the best memories of all.

    1. This reminded me of the first book I didn’t put down to come to the dinner table. I can still taste the pizza my mom brought to me in my room so I could keep reading. The first line takes a moment to unfold. At first, I wasn’t sure where the tasty memory was coming from, and the contrast in the next lines to dingy shelves, dusty book covers, and a musty smell was an interesting conflict for my senses that paid off when I got your description of the snack and your memories that come full circle back to the first line.

    2. “The book that could transport me to another time and place, and with this one, it had 2 different places to take me.” – I love this line because it is so true for so many readers. The sensory details moved the writing (and memory) along. Nicely done!

      Renee, sometimes it is good to take a break from the WIP and just bring back some memories through writing. I don’t know about you, but I find that it inspires me to get back to my WIP. I hope that you found inspiration.

      1. Andy you are right. It was helpful to step away and write something different. I ended up writing more in my WIP later and it flowed faster. Thanks!

  14. Donna – Thanks for the guest post. I especially appreciated that you used excerpts from books as mentors for us. I’m trying to find more examples like these for my students to use with their writing and will add these to my list. Would you be willing to share something sensory from your books?

    1. kimc, every time I teach this lesson, I use the beginning of Holes, with its sensory details about heat so true that I almost sweat just reading it.

      From my book, Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen: While I’m staring at the door, a soft plink, plink, plink sounds on my window air-conditioner. The plinks get faster and louder. Finally, rain splashes against my window in a deluge. “Perfect,” I say, using my most sarcastic tone.

      1. “I almost sweat just reading it”… So true! Thanks for sharing the Olivia Bean excerpt. Great fodder for my student writers.

  15. I’m definitely not a fiction writer, so this is more memoir…my memories, not a character’s. And it’s a little long; sorry.

    “You smell like vacation,” he mumbles, still 90 percent asleep but catching a whiff of my sunscreen as I gently kiss his cheek.

    As I lace up my shoes and ease out into the sunrise, his murmured words bring back a flood of memories, a jumble of the trips we’ve taken in the few short years we’ve been together.

    As I start to run, I hear the roar of the ocean and feel the slap of its waves, and my mind recaptures the sense of awe from the first time I saw, smelled, and heard it – our first trip together, to Mazatlan, where we sweltered and sweat, escaping the heat with sugary drinks in the pool.

    I slow down for a stoplight.

    A hot puff of steam from a Yellowstone geyser shoots up next to me, its sulfuric odor briefly overpowering.

    The light turns, and I keep moving.

    Sweat trickles down my back as we hike through a bamboo forest, and I feel the cooling relief of a fully-clothed leap into a waterfall – a relic from our Hawaii honeymoon.

    A semi blows past me.

    I pause to inhale the sweet scent of wildflowers and the tangy odor of pine, keeping my ears alert for the rustling of bushes, the sign of a nearby Yosemite deer – or a mama bear, protecting her two little cubs.

    I reach the halfway point and turn around.

    My shoulders tingle a bit, and I reach my left hand to my right shoulder, then flinch away in pain. Blisters. I knew I should have reapplied sunscreen after that last dip in a Playa del Carmen pool.

    I tip my handheld water bottle up for a mid-run drink, but instead of water, I taste the sweet musk of a good merlot, one far out of our budget, on our Napa tour.

    I stop to tie my shoe.

    A chilly, salty breeze blows across me, and though I briefly shiver, the soft lapping of Dungeness Bay waves at sunset stills me just in time to hear a bald eagle call from his post on the powerlines above my head.

    All too soon, I’m turning back onto our street, slipping back into reality as I slow into a cool-down. The sounds, smells, and tastes of vacations past fade away as a wayward sprinkler squirts me and my stomach rumbles.

    As I untie my shoes, my now-awake husband drops a kiss on my forehead.

    “Mmm,” he says. “You smell like vacation.”

    1. This was beautiful! I love the alternating lines and the repetition of “you smell like vacation” coming full circle.

  16. It was a mistake for Arthur to let his grandson, Anthony, use the camper for him and his girlfriend to live in while he built a house. He should have known cleanliness would not be a priority. It never had been for Amanda, even after she had her baby. Now I\’m no Heloise or Martha Stewart, but I could find no excuse for the filth that I saw when I first looked in the camper. Notice I said \”looked in,\” because I saw all I needed to see right from the steps.

    The first thing that caught my eye was a gallon sized glass jar of Vlasic pickles tipped on its side, a few whe pickles still swimming in the cloudy liquid. Amazingly it had not exploded in the heat or cold it had been exposed to while sitting unused during these last few years. The carpet was spotted and worn, and had seen no vacuum for several years. I know their excuse would be that they had no power other than the generator, but at this point their excuses were as useless as the water pipes which had been allowed to burst in the winter. Grit and grime, pine needles, leaves, paper, dirt, crumbs, and yes, droppings from small critters that had made this camper their home were embedded into the texture of the carpet. The linoleum in the kitchen was torn, and layered black with dirt and grease so heavy the color of the flooring was unrecognizable. There were larger items, too, baby clothes that no longer fit, cast away toys, plastic garbage bags that spilled out soda cans and bottles, greasy, grimy tools, newspapers, candy wrappers, and other delights. The back wall had a beaten down plaid sofa of rough material, it\’s cushions torn, with evidence that the stuffing now housed the same small animals that had left the droppings.
    The smell was putrid. The same smell I hate when I pass the dump along interstate 91 in Hartford,CT, when I go to visit my sister. It\’s the smell of old, of rot, of things gone bad, of abuse, of garbage. And above all that was a worst smell, the smell of urine gone stale, strong enough to make me step back down the steps to suck in some clean, fresh air. Whether the smell was of human or animal origin, I wasn\’t about to find out. How do people live like this, I wondered? And the bigger, more pressing question- did Arthur actually think this camper could be salvaged, cleaned well enough to use as a place to rest while we build our log cabin? The answer… \”Yes.\”

    1. I love that you take a scene that everyone can relate to but that is undesirable. Until I read your entry here, I was having a hard time conjuring an idyllic scene and then with your example, I’m given permission to immerse myself in the not-so-welcome sensory details that make up our stories (and our characters’ stories) too. I like how you spiral from the animal droppings back to the animals that must be living in the sofa and your string of descriptors for the smell. I feel for this character already. We live in a mountain home, and the first thing we did when we bought the property was bulldoze the trailer that had sat abandoned and rotting. We still find scraps of the destruction in the driveway when it rains. Thanks for all your entry brought to mind this morning!

    2. Carol, awesome excerpt! I found myself oohing and aahing at the disgusting sensory details. You have written a setting that the reader can visualize with all of their senses (and maybe get a little sick while reading – just kidding:).

  17. Sitting on the hill, the bright sun’s rays bake the earth, demanding any moisture from the morning sprinklers hover just above the grass. And where there is no grass, the dirt turns to dust with every shuffle of a cleated size 10. The breeze brings hints of a summertime storm in the making.
    There are more moms here today than usual. Some are out on the field, competing with one another with their praises and shouts of disapproval. Some are absorbed in their books, their phones, or their younger children. You can’t even tell which of the girls on the field belong to them.
    I wonder if any of them notice what I do as I put my hands behind me in the grass, look out past my sandalled toes, and watch as my not-so-little girl grows up right before my eyes. I breathe in deeply. Do they notice? The baked earth, the hovering humidity, the dust from under their toes, the scent of rain approaching? Can you smell it? That, my fellow moms, is the smell of softball.

    1. I got a sense of your place in things later on in your description, but it didn’t hinder the building of your picture. The ground itself became a character – even the dirt, the clear spots, illustrated your point. Cool.

  18. Carol,
    Wow! This piece steeps with sensory imagery in the same way the trailer did! Morgan makes such a good point, that sensory words bring alive difficult and unpleasant things just as effectively as pleasant ones. This piece is very evocative and helps me step into your summer experiences and challenges in an effective way. When my mother remarried a commercial fisherman, they moved to his coastal camp. before they built their home, they lived in an old trailer. It was not in quite the shape of the one you described, but had the same slightly moldy disintegrating quality old unused trailers like the one you described get. Your scene is so well described it is easy to see and smell what you did standing on those steps.

  19. So pungent and sharp a smell that it stayed around even as the morning trickles on into afternoon and afternoon into evening. I can she her now, Aunt Phyllis, bringing the bed sheets in off the line and placing them on her and my uncle’s queen size bed. It is summer and I can feel the breeze as it gently caresses my face from the cracked windows. She was so clean, almost OCD. She would take a cloth, and a bucket of bleach mixed with soap and water, and scrub the walls. That was the smell, although faint. It was the smell of sheets that had been cleaned into submission by the powerful and almighty Clorox bleach. That house shined and so did the garden outside filled with collard greens, tomatoes, and peppers. My cousin and I would wait until she said it was okay for us to go out and play. The concrete jungle was our home and we rode our bikes in the alleys between houses, chased down Mr. Softee every time we heard his melodious song, and split the $5.00 my aunt gave us at the corner store where we brought sour powers, calypso chips, Kit Kats, and bubble gum tape. Ahh, that was the life…

    1. Lovely use of scent, but what I notices even more was your strong word choice — pungent, caresses, trickles, melodious.

      Simply lovely!

    2. Your memories and smells brought back my mom’s house. She was intent and determined that we would be able to eat off her kitchen floor because it was clean.

  20. Brian, as soon as I began reading your piece, I could immediately \”smell\” the candles along with you. It is amazing how picking the right detail immediately pulls your reader into your description because their own familiarity with the sensory detail makes them trust your scene.

  21. Donna, I commented on Facebook: this advice really has me thinking this morning. I think of myself as a sensory writer but when I skimmed my WIP after reading your advice this morning, I realize how frequently I wrote visual details, not the other senses. I once wrote a scene about travelers arriving in Havana and remember, when sharing it in a workshop, the readers pointed out that I\’d left out all noise and smell. I may come back and share a scene where I use the other senses, but mostly will be using this activity this morning to read for places where I could add more sensory detail. Thanks!

    1. Elissa, that’s great! Sometimes we simply forget to pay attention to our other senses — in life and in our writing. I’m sure there are many senses you can explore with Havana. Good luck with your writing!

  22. An indescribable “clean” smell. Not “clean but frilly” like Bath and Body Works Clean Linen scent. But not “clean and sterile” like a bleach scrubbed germ-free hospital room.

    This is just a clean and warm smell…. The scent of the soap used to scrub into the Neo-natal Intensive Care Unit. The smell which meant I was almost to him…..my new born and new adopted son. The smallest person I’ve ever met but also the most resilient. That clean and warm scent soon overpowered by the fragrance of new love.

      1. Thanks!

        My son is now 12, and when I visit the hospital where he was born and wash my hands, I’m instantly transported back to the time of his birth..

  23. I combined this prompt with Jo Knowle’s prompt. Here’s what I got.

    You can’t take it with you.
    Butch stroked the creamy petals of the honeysuckle vine. They’d always looked like tiny superheroes to him, floating down to earth, capes breezing above them. With a twist of his squared-off fingers, he plucked the blossom and brought its base to his cracked, feverish lips. He expected the nectar of his youth, but this tiny droplet held none of the honey-sweetness he remembered from his childhood. Another bitter disappointment, just like him.
    He sank further against the sharp wire of the fence surrounding the grounds at Statesville Penitentiary, and tried to let the vines conceal his body. Even if their honey didn’t taste as sweet, this honeysuckle still managed to sell itself to Butch with its fragrance.
    As a child, he and Molly and Chris had spent hours in their fort, out of reach of angry fists and empty cupboards. Chris, as the oldest, had scouted out the spot and made it their sanctuary. South of the Anderson’s acres of corn, only a short run for stubbly little legs like Molly’s and his, but far enough to be out of sight and out of mind.
    There was a scraggly oak that had been struck by lightning and split in half before Butch had been born. Only one side of the tree had survived the trauma, and the other half had peeled away and drooped like a comically half-peeled banana. It was on this splintery curve that the honeysuckle had climbed, fed by the years of summer heat and field drainage. It crept over the limb and hung itself, a thick green tent to shield the three disappearing childhoods in its cloying embrace. They drank the blossoms and licked the stamens clean.
    It was here that Chris told them stories in the sweet heavy air of July, the honey fragrance spiced with the green sugar of July corn. It was here that they buried their treasures in an old tin cigar box with fancy drawings embedded on the lid like fine art. It was here that Butch brought Molly to keep her safe when Chris was gone. The smell and leaves of the honeysuckle vines would protect them into the fall when they finally had to make other plans.
    Butch crushed the petals between his thick fingers, and let the vines protect him in their sweet tent one last time as he fed the ground with his lifeblood, and his troubles couldn’t follow.

  24. I didn’t get along with my stepfather that well, we were like two mismatched dance partners: we just didn’t fit. Maybe he communicated through smells—it was his saying things without really talking. His after shave lotion (or was it cologne? I don’t know) meant he was getting up, ready to take care of the day with a capital C. There was his terrific bbq sauce that infused our delicious summer dinners. The factory he ran smelled leathery, mysterious and a bit scary. The scent warned me that it wasn’t a place to go exploring. It all added up to knowing someone was in charge and taking care of us. The care of my stepfather always had an edge of fear for me—super-powered and purposeful as compared to the easygoing love from my playful, but deceased, father.

  25. Inspired by the trip I’m on: Riding the bus through the city, I smelled the neighborhoods one by one. First was Chinatown. The crowded sidewalks revealed shoppers gently touching the soft skin of fruits I didn’t recognize. In between nestled mom and pop restaurants, with small tables out front. Sweet and sour sauce or fried rice, either way my mouth was starting to water. A second later we crossed into North Beach. I didn’t have to see the Italian red, white and green on the street light poles to recognize where we were. Garlic oozed out the open doors beckoning me to share my lunch break. From the dirty windows I could make out a multitude of colors in the gelato store reminding me instantly of the cantaloupe flavor I adored in Florence.

    But I was saving myself. The bus lurched to a stop outside of Fisherman’s Wharf and I glided in between the stalls selling fresh fish. Some of their glassy eyes stared back. Most of we’re now piled high top each other no longer looking like individual creatures which had just been swimming free in the bay. What to get, so many choices? Despite the hard shell, I knew the succulent crab would satisfy my taste buds. I had been waiting since my last trip to satisfy my hunger.

    Oh no! Did I miss the stand. I walked straight, then took the first right as always, but no crab. I quickly glanced around and that’s when I saw the sign. Sold out, come back Monday.

  26. Thump. Thump. Thump. It almost feels as the stadium is moving with the rhythm of the thumping. A muffled, “Let’s go Tigers!” is being chanted in tempo with the thumping.

    I push the cold, steel stadium door open just a crack, and with the vibrant cheering of the crowd turned up a few decibels, comes a rush of cool, crisp October air. The autumn air takes my breath away for only a second, but seems to break the nervous tension of my teammates that crowd, shoulder to shoulder, down the narrow hallway that leads to the locker room. One last long sigh in unison before silence, as the players press forward toward the stadium lights that are filtering through the now half open doorway to the track runaway that leads to the field. As the team captain, now is the time to speak. “We have worked for this all year!” I roar while slamming the door completely open and leading the charge of players out onto the field.

    “Let’s go Tiger!” We reach the turf field in an all out sprint and the chant is deafening. My heart is pumping wildly and sweat is already dripping into my eyes. The stadium is sailing as the students in the bleachers wave their arms, rowdily jump up and down, and are almost spilling over the railings.

    Coach is barking for us to get into two lines to warm up, but I, like my teammates, are staring out at the surrounding crowds in bewilderment. The crispness of the air, the roars of the crowd, and the uncontrolled excitement overwhelms us, almost putting us into a state of confusion. How do we run line drills?

    The lines take form on opposite sides of the field from each other. Instantly, there is structure and a comfortable feeling calms everyone. I slowly trot towards the oncoming ball, take a stutter step, get a foot on the soccer ball, and deliver the perfect pass. As I jog to the opposite line, still is awe of the crowds and moment, I whisper to myself, “This is sectional championship soccer.” I’ve waited my whole life for this game.

    1. This was a really powerful piece, Andy. It was vivid with so much energy and movement, even in the bewilderment stage! I particularly enjoyed experiencing it through the eyes of a participant looking up and out rather than a spectator. So often these scenes are seen from above and afar. Loved it.

    2. Your sensory details are spot on. I had the roar of the crowd in my ears the entire time I was reading. Great build up of suspense, too. I was waiting to see what sport was being played; I like that you saved that for the end. Great work!

  27. On the first warm, spring day without threat of rain or overnight frost, I venture into our semi-clean, yet mainly disorganized, dusty, and spider-riddled garage to find my gardening supplies. Among large blue tubs filled with memories of pre-marriage life and boxes of diapers stacked to the ceiling, I find my trowel and gardening gloves and several clay pots filled with dry soil and thin, twisted, brittle fragments of plants past.

    Out in the yard, my fingers sift through the gritty soil as I dump it into a shallow, wide basin to be revitalized with Miracle-Gro Magic and water. The spent, brown and greying stems prick my fingers: those were petunias, and oh those, my beautiful dahlias–all skeletons revealed after a summer of scorching temperatures and neglect while their owners were off sniffing lemon and olive trees in Italy.

    Here are the herbs: the has-been basil and once-was thyme. I breathe in the faint, earthy scents, memories of pasta dishes and summer salads–and then, a familiar smell: stronger, more fragrant than the others. I uncover a small pot in the rubble and discover the rosemary, somehow, miraculously, still thriving. The slightly salty aroma fills the air as I jostle the spiny stems as if affectionately tousling the hair of a beloved child.

    I am suddenly no longer kneeling in the scratchy, yellowed grass of my backyard, but instead standing behind the counter of La Perla Nera, my family’s pizzeria in Italy. The fragrance of rosemary clings to my apron as I rub a mixture of the herb and olive oil and salt onto oblong planks of foccacia. The cash register dings and the drawer clicks as it closes. A metal spatula grates against a rectangular baking tray, nimble hands using it to cut slices of margherita and sausage and broccoli and tomato and olive pizza. Strings of conversations in quick, lyrical Italian tie themselves together in knots around me. An ambulance’s eeee-oooo eeee-oooo is first soft, then high-pitched and deafening, then soft again as the van speeds by the shop’s narrow, glass doors.

    Ding. Click. Scrape. Grazie.
    Ding. Click. Scrape. Grazie.
    Inhale. Rosemary. Ahhh.

    Stefania….Stefffannnniiiiaaaa. I look up, expecting to see my aunt Antonietta, flour dusting her frizzy hair and olive-toned face, beckoning me to come and help with the next customer.

    Stephanie? Instead, I am kneeling in the scratchy, yellowed grass of my back yard, hands dusted with dirt, not flour. And it’s my husband, not my aunt.
    “Here are the new plants for the pots.” He looks at the small, terracotta vessel I hold in my hands.
    “The rosemary lasted all winter?”

    Much longer, in fact.

    1. Stephanie, that was so beautiful. Loved the way you went from the here and now to the past. And your last line let was a winner. Great use of so many sensory details. Left me wanting to be there in Italy, enjoying the sounds and smells, too.

      1. Thank you, Donna, for the kind words and for the great writing exercise. It was a treat to travel back to L’Aquila for a while this afternoon.

    2. I agree with Donna, Stephanie, that was wonderful! Your language was spot on- “thin, twisted, brittle fragments of plants past” and “has-been basil” and “once-was thyme”. You captured my attention early on with your description so that I was easily led into the past in Italy, and snapped back out of it again at the end. So lovely.

    3. WOW! Stephanie, your use of sensory details brought your excerpt to life. The reader could close his/her eyes and see the setting (I did!). In addition to the vivid sensory details, there was also a beautiful story. I loved the ending!

      THANK YOU for sharing!

    4. What a beautiful piece! I loved how seamlessly you went from present time to memory and back again. I can imagine how fun it was for you to walk down memory lane. I especially loved the line about the conversations tied in knots around you. Such lovely picture language! Thank you for sharing a little bit of your world with us.

  28. It was dark now around 9pm. I was in bed staring out the window. Even without glasses on I could see the bright lights of the fire flies dancing in the leaves and branches of the apple trees. I pulled my glasses on slightly, just enough to be able to focus in the lights. They were beautiful random bits of light that were saturated in a summer evening. The moon was drifting in and out of nighttime clouds as if to play a game of peek a boo with us. Off in the distance, was the sound of someone’s backyard fireworks booming in a most pleasant way.

  29. The prompt encouraged me to add a scene to my WIP- (still needs work, but it’s a start.)

    “Jackson?” Maya called out. He was not where he said he would be. She should have known better than to meet at the hotel pool. Why did she say his name at all when the courtyard was completely empty? Not a soul to be seen. And yet she said his name again, softer instead of louder. “Jackson?”

    Maya stepped out from under the overhang and into the sunshine, immediately feeling the hungry rays beating on her pale shoulders and head. She pulled the towel closer around herself, covering up against the rays, releasing the scent of her banana and coconut sunlotion.

    The water rippled gently, sending dancing prisms of light bouncing around the courtyard, briefly illuminating a hibiscus flower here, a tiki lamp there, never settling. A very gentle breeze kicked up and the smell of chlorine wafted her way before being pulled in the opposite direction again. Maya didn’t even have to close her eyes to be transported back, to smell the plastic floaty wings and the warm straw flip flops of her childhood. She could feel the stretch of the elastic strap of the goggles against her face, incessantly pulling strands of her hair.

    She did close her eyes when she remembered her father’s voice, however, his anger and impatience directed at her seven-year-old self who refused to get in the water. She could feel that too familiar reaction in her gut where her stomach went into freefall and her throat grew tight. Her fingertips tingled. The force of the memory almost knocked her over.

    Abruptly Maya opened her eyes and turned to get out of the sun. It was better that she not meet Jackson here at the pool after all. What had she been thinking? Maya spun too quickly and in the dizzying bright light almost collided with someone directly in her path.

    “Whoa,” he said, reaching out to steady both of them. Jackson tipped his head towards her to look her in the face. “Hey, are you okay?”

  30. You never realize how much you take for granted the sound of a person’s voice until you do not hear it anymore. Something so ordinary, so everyday, so mundane, even, suddenly becomes a precious treasure, a fleeting grasp at what once was, a moment you don’t want to let go.

    A few years ago, I was with my family at my aunt and uncle\’s house, and we stumbled upon some old family videos. Always up for a good-natured laugh at our old selves, my uncle popped the first tape into the VCR. \”I don’t even remember what’s on these,” he chortled. We all gathered around the small TV, cramming into couches, chairs, or any other place we could find. The video began with the usual footage–a child’s first steps, swimming in the tiny pool in the backyard, a 4th of July picnic. My cousins were snickering, teasing each other about old hair cuts and high-pitched voices, when all of the sudden, a new voice came over the TV.

    “Well, isn’t that nice, the children playing all together like that.” The room froze. My breath caught in my chest and my eyes immediately filled with hot tears. It was my grandma. It had been five years since I had heard that voice. Memories came flooding into my mind…

    …Grandma snuggling next to me on the couch, pressing a kiss on my head, whispering, “I love you so much, and Jesus loves you, too.” Her breath had smelled of salt and butter, a remnant of the popcorn we had just made….

    …”Here, have a little sweetsie.” Grandma grinned, putting my hand into hers to deliver the piece of candy. The foil wrapper crinkled in my hand–a secret between us…

    …That day in the hospital, sitting in a stark white room that smelled of rubber and hand sanitizer. I couldn\’t even bring myself to look up at her lying in the bed. I was trying to be brave, like Dad told me to. I was trying to choke back the tears, but I couldn’t. They started dripping down my face so fast, I couldn’t even hide them. My dad looked at me, took a deep breath, and started to say something, but Grandma jumped in. “Oh, leave her be,\” came that sweet, soothing tone. “Let her cry. It’s okay to cry. Jesus cried, so you can cry too.” I will never forget that moment. Here she was, lying in a hospital bed with just a few days before she would see her Savior\’s face, and she was comforting me. I should’ve been comforting her, and it was she who was comforting me…

    And, as suddenly as I had been taken to those memories, I was back, crammed together with my family. As we looked around at each other, sniffling, hugging, and smiling, I think we all realized the gift we had just been given that day–a precious treasure, a grasp at what once was, a moment we could always hold on to.

  31. I am preparing for having 7 teenagers sleeping over my house this Wed. so I didn\’t get to write until really late.

    Rushing through the doors of the Collinsville School, the first thing that hits me is the unique smell of the old wooden floors. I have never found out what makes that it smell that way…I’ve been in other buildings with wooden floors but they just don’t have the same smell. It smells the same as it did nearly fifty years ago when I was a first grade student there. Additional smells from that long ago time flood my memories….I smile at the thought of the art teacher bringing in her wooden crate filled to the top with a kaleidoscope of broken Crayola crayons. I would scoop both hands in and run my fingers through the rainbow of colors and just inhale that special aroma. I recall the lingering scent of peanut butter that wafted out of my Mary Poppins lunch box the minute the metal lid was opened. The sweet smell of the pine trees enters on the breeze as the door opens behind me. I climb the stairs to the second floor to the conference room. The very room that was the second grade classroom where I played the cymbals in a long ago holiday program.
    I am no longer a six year old student here….and no longer the teenage girl visiting into her dad’s office in the room next door. Now I am here as a first grade teacher for a professional development course after a long day of teaching little ones. I listen as the presenter complains about the squeaky floorboards and it makes me sad that she doesn’t share my memories. She doesn’t know what I know. This building has history….it contains the ghosts and echoes of all the thousands of bright faced elementary students and their dedicated teachers that learned and played and sang together for over 75 years. My first grade teacher, Mrs. Connolly is gone now…my father is gone too. But this stately old building remains as a memorial to all who have passed through its doors in the name of education.

    1. Beautiful, Maureen. I love your line: “It contains the ghosts and echoes . . .” Terrific! Hope you survive all those teenagers in your home. 🙂