Creating a living character that will be memorable to your readers involves using all five senses to bring him or her to life. What they see is the most often used sense. Hearing and touch next, with smell and taste often forgotten or just not bothered with much. This article talks about each of those and adds a touch about the sixth sense if you believe in hunches, intuition, second sight, and so on. Time passing can also be another sense when it makes a character frantic or nervous.
My husband often asks me, “What am I hearing?” or “What am I smelling?” I have no idea where he developed the belief that I could jump into his head and immediately figure out what was going on in there. Really, that’s a pretty scary proposal, to begin with. Then we get to the fact that his sense of smell is one of the most keen I have ever encountered. I’ve spent the last 24 years adjusting my lotions and perfume so as not to offend his perception. If he said he smelled something burning, that smell would get to me half a minute later, if at all.
We both had our hearing checked because you get to the point where every answer to your speech being “What?” is no longer acceptable. His hearing has a little bit of loss due to his dad taking him and his brother out shooting without protective ear covers. My hearing is going the way of most older people with large, screaming parrots. But for both of us, we are more handicapped by background noise, like water running in the kitchen or birds talking, singing, and the aforementioned screaming.
Do your characters meet in a bar and have a long heart-to-heart conversation? Make sure to mention the fact the place is empty, no music is going, and while you’re at it, the smell of urine from the bathrooms down the hall, the sticky residue on the tables, and the haze of three days worth of cigar smoke from Big Tiny the bartender. One of your characters has to be home by 11, so keep him looking at this watch. Give the woman he meets there the clue that she might not be the only woman in his life.
Another sense, in a way, is memory. Lots of things we see, hear, smell, taste, and touch evoke something from our past. Nekko Wafers remind me of the days before I cared so much about my sugar intake. Vanilla candles remind me of an attempt to cover up the horrible smell of the cockroaches in that one apartment.
My character Valerie Harding might be moved to tears when she hears the sound of children laughing, reminding her of the son she lost. Adam Dorset appreciates the feel of fine fabric on his skin, having been forced to wear an orange jumpsuit for 5 years. And when they see each other, as the relationship grows between them, the sight of someone who could be their future fills each with their own sense of peace and joy.
Now you are armed with the best tools for good writing outside of your own imagination. Go forth and prove to the world your merit and garner your awards. Never doubt for a moment that the world needs your stories. Keep on keeping on. Thanks for reading. I’ll be back on Thursday.