How to paint pictures with words? How to bring a concrete object to life? One, the use of sensory details (sight, touch, sound, taste, and smell), if noticed, can engage not only the mind of the reader but the emotions as well. Two, using sensory detail, we begin to paint an idea, using imagery.
In Rebecca McClanahan’s book Word Painting, Chapters 3 & 4, she discusses the power of prose using description and the organization of details as being as important as the details themselves. She expertly describes with examples the five senses and the strength they give to writing. For those of you who are writers, you have an idea there is actual work involved. I can truthfully say I will never be able to write with my ‘eyes closed’ so to speak. The process and command of the page is never completed.
The following example from one of our writer’s group prompts used sensory details to help bring a concrete object to life, and to show personal possession of the thing itself revealing an attachment by the use of memory. (In my case, it was the barn that withstood three generations of my family).
The prompt was to be titled, Last Chance. We had to figure out a short story, pick an object that was familiar to us (mine was the barn), and bring it to life using sensory details and descriptive imagery. Once again, we could go with this prompt however we wanted if it took off on its own.
I wanted my barn to be the color of cherry cola. A dark, brownish rich red, the same shade that filled the tall clear glass at the café when I was nine. My grandparents took me every Friday afternoon for lunch during the summer. At the rear of the dining area, farmers scooted chairs around a big table where they told of neighbors’ woes, tales, and gossip. We always sat at the same smaller round table in the center. A plate of hot sizzling French Fries would be placed smack dab in the middle of the table where we all could reach and loads of ketchup on the side like a healing bundle of red clover. I loved the taste of fries with cherry coke.
I moved the ladder further over to begin painting the other side of the barn. The top all the way around had been finished, the hard part. These boards were weathered, and smooth, peepholes here and there. Not one nail held these boards together, but hand-made wooden dowels did. As I painted, I noted how the barn began to breathe, to move under the big wide paint brush. It relaxed under the constant massage of the brush stroke, limbered up and its spirits seemed to rise. Starlings flew in and out of the open windows, intermittently resting on the edges to chatter about the facelift.
Now and again a car or truck horn honked from the gravel road. I never turned but held my brush hand high in the air, paint dripping past my wrist in acknowledgment. The barn was getting attention and creating a fuss in the quiet countryside.
I climbed down the ladder to inspect the last bit to paint. Two large partitions were attached to a metal runner for doors in the center front. What color? Green, brown, a French Blue? A horn suddenly tooted and realized I had heard that particular ‘beep’ several times over the last two months. I turned to see who it was. It was Wade in his ’56 Ford pickup. He turned into the long lane and headed my way. I never noticed the color of his truck before. My, it was pretty. Sort of a French Blue, like the color of mist pushed from the ocean to gather around a little village on an early Sunday morning. As he turned off the key, the truck took two short steps forward, almost like a fox trot.
He walked over to look at the barren sun-washed barn door. “Well,” he says, his hands on his stern hips, “I see this is the last of it.”
“Yes, it is, sort of like a last chance you might pitch in to help.” He turned a shade of…um, that would be it…the color Embarrassed, not the French Blue I was hoping for. (end)
I thought I would end up writing more about the barn and its past meaning, but my short story took a turn when the color of Wade’s truck entered the scene. After our time was up we read our pieces over a slice of warm apple pie and whipped cream. Once home, I continued with several more pages of Wade. One never knows where a story may go.