Monday, July 5, 2010

Psyched!!! Sensual Perception

If you're wondering how my Japanese test went, in a word, hilarious! There was one part where I had no clue what was going on, but I picked Answer #2, because that one was about butter and flour and we had cooking class last week. lol. It was funny :)

One of my random obsessions in life is social/personality theory. Why we are who we are and how we are. So for a couple of weeks, I'm going to be intruding on the "Mondays on My Mind" feature with "Psyched!" Psyched! will introduce to a little bit of social theory and I'll even tie it to how it can be relevant to you and your characters!

When you've finished with this post, feel free to check out the others in the series:
Psyched! Learning Style/Perception Modality

For the first installment of Psyched! we'll be looking at Sensual Perception. I know that sounds rather Rated Harlequin, but it's totally not.

Sensual Perception is about which senses you use to take in the world. This concept is actually new to me. I read about it last week in a Writers Digest article, and it resonated with me.

We all have a preference for our senses, a hierarchy, if you will. We each use all the senses we are capable of, but even for those of us who have full use of all 5 senses, we use some more than others.


A visual person notices visual details. They notice what people look like, what people are wearing. They see the colours of buildings. One of my closest friends, L, is a very visual person. When I bring up memories from our school days, she can often remember what clothes we were wearing.
I, on the other hand, can't remember what I wore yesterday. In fact, I am so out of tune with these things, that I often end up wearing the same to schools twice in a row. I only go to my Monday, Thursday and Friday schools once a week, and since I can't remember what clothes I had on last week, it must look like I only own one outfit!

If my friend and I witnessed a crime, and have to do composite sketches, her's would look like a photo. Mine would be like, "Um- dark hair, eyes, a nose, a mouth?"

This person picks up on auditory details. They never mistake a voice on the phone, and they probably pick up song melodies (and sometimes lyrics) easily. I am very much more an auditory person. I can tell the difference between a scooter, motorbike, K-car ( a Japanese thing that I hope to remember to explain at some point), car, taxi, SUV, truck, bus and the two types of trains that come through town. All using just my ears. I know all my colleagues' voices, which is no small feat, since I work in 4 schools and an office and have about 80 colleagues, only 2 of whom are English speakers.

A person who picks up on olfactory details. I have fairly bad sinus allergies. So, perfume makes me sneeze. Dust makes me sneeze. 50% of flowers make me sneeze. The other 50 make me stuffy. So I notice these smells. I'm not very in tune to people's natural body odors or mild stenches, like old garbage.

One of my foreign colleagues here, has no sense of smell. And since taste is between 50 and 90% smell - depending on who you hear it from - this affects her sense of taste. For example, she doesn't like some fruits, because in the absence of smell, they just taste like sickly sweetness.

A tactile person likes tactile detail. As a kid, I used to love "feely" stuff. I would rub the material of my satin-y nightgown between my thumb and forefinger as I drifted off to sleep. In winter I pull my turtlenecks up over nose. Not because I'm cold- although I am- but because I like how stuff feels on my nose. It's so weird the other ALTs in my office call me "Textile Ninja."

People see the world in different ways. Another way that you can paint your characters is through what they relate. In books with multiple POV this can even be a way of differentiating characters.

For example, if I were to walk into an office for the first time, talk to the secretary, and take a seat, here are a few things I might notice:
The flowers in a bouquet on the centre table and how I'd have to sit in the corner of the waiting room to avoid sneezing
Why is this woman wearing so much danged perfume?
The music on the PA
The fabric on the arms of the chairs

My friend, L (the visual one), might notice these things:
The secretary's earrings
How her nail polish is clashing with her top
The nice fragrance she's wearing
Fashion magazines on the centre table
All the furniture matches
How many other people are in the waiting room

It's the same scene, but we've noticed different things. You could even try it with a few of your friends, if you like. If you go somewhere you've never been, ask your friend to describe anything they remember afterwards, and see which details stayed with them.

People identify with stories told with the senses they use most. I'm not a visual person. I live in a place that's quite possibly the definition of picturesque. I've got train tracks in front of my house, a river behind it and mountains on either side. You should see it in winter. I know it's beautiful, but in the same way I know 1 and 1 is 2. It doesn't take my breath away.

There's an abundance of visual details in books. I don't know if that's because most people are visual people or most artists are visual people. This is a perk for visual people, but for those who rely on other senses, it may actually get in the way of the story.

Weaving a wider web of senses can help define your characters, and it can also be useful in pulling in people who rely on the 4 less described senses.

ACTIVITY: Try writing a scene where vision is irrelevant, either because a character is blind or because it's dark. See what details come out. Good luck!


Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Textile Ninja! Love it, and I think your sense of hearing is astounding. I bet you've written that scene and made it rich with auditory detail.
Excellent things to think about in this post, expecially how these senses will change a scene depending on the character. Since I have allergies, too, you remind me how I avoid or hold my breath in aisles of stores where there are detergents, cleaning fluids or perfumes.

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