|Pic courtesy Timothy's sketchpad|
Beginning writers need to take care with this aspect of writing, however: bombarding the reader with every single sensory notion in every scene, or giving too much information about a character's experience of one, can have an off-putting effect. Are you sure your reader wants to know what every scene smells or sounds like? It can be over-kill to compare noises and aromas continually. It is much more effective to mention these things occasionally, and with a lot of thought and planning.
Humans are, after all, very visual - and what they do while they read is build a mental 'picture' of what the author suggests. It is rarely a mental noise, or a mental smell! And this is where the literary arts have a similarity to visual arts such as photography or painting. Such artists suggest mental imagery that prompts the reader's own store of memories and experiences. Words are as powerful as pictures in suggesting emotions such as fear, joy and exhilaration, and a few words are enough, just as a few strokes of charcoal in a sketch or a vague black and white photograph are sometimes enough to provoke a whole flood of memories.
A bleak landscape, a family group ... they are images we all have in our heads, but they are not all necessarily identical. Reading a book, we tend to like suggestions much more than literal and minute descriptions, so that we can fill in the picture with our own imagination. A reader's own thoughts play a very important part in the activity of taking in a novel, just as they do when they see a sketchy rendition of something that looks vaguely familiar.
The role of the author must be understood in this relationship between one who creates a story and the receptor of that narrative. It is a kind of dance, where one leads, but occasionally stands back to allow the other a very personal space in which to conjure pictures of their own.
Is this why reading is so satisfying? Readers often say they prefer the book to the movie that follows. Is it because the movie is not their own visualization, but that of the director?
Let me know what you think - how you like sensory aspects in what you read. If you are a writer, tell me how much prompting you feel your readers need to conjure a scene you create for them in their minds. Tell me whether you feel there is some sense in calling writing a visual art.