When I was in 7th grade, my English teacher told the class to think of a brief event and write about it in one sentence.
I remember thinking about one of my family’s Christmas traditions. It was tradition to look over the ledge and behold all the Christmas goodness before going downstairs. I wrote something like, “I look over the ledge before dashing down the stairs.”
Then our teacher told us we’d have to turn it into something much more. This one sentence was going to become an entire scene. I was shocked. How could a moment that lasted mere seconds be turned into more than a few sentences?
But as my teacher taught me to use the 5 senses I added description about what I saw. All the presents, the Christmas tree, and Santa’s remaining milk and cookies. I wrote about imagining the taste of all the chocolate waiting for me in my stocking. As I explored the 5 senses, my one sentence turned into more than a page of writing.
By exploring the 5 senses, I learned how to explode the moment.
How to Use the 5 Senses to Explode the Moment
You can do this activity with any scene in your own novel. Pick a scene that you are struggling to develop. Focus on the scenes that are most crucial to your character’s development or to progressing the plot. Have a scene picked out? Let’s get started!
The brain is an incredible organ. It is capable of processing so much in very little time. It’s amazing that the brain can simultaneously comprehend all 5 senses. Don’t sell your character short. Let them explore their senses.
What is your character touching (or not touching)? What does it feel like? Why are they touching it? How are they touching it? Do they have a firm grasp, or are they barely holding on?
What does your character smell? Does it smell good or bad? Do they like the smell? Why or why not? Why are they smelling the smell?
What does your character see? What do they observe, and what do they tune out? Why are they more observant of some things and not of others? Do they focus more on people or objects?
Is your character eating something? How does it taste? Do they like it or not? Why are they eating or not eating? What do they wish they were eating? If they are not eating, are they thinking about the taste of food? What taste do they have in their mouth?
What does your character hear? Silence or lots of noise? Is it comfortable or unbearable? Are they always listening to music? Why? What songs? Depending on your point of view, is there sound that the character is unaware of?
The most important element of expanding a scene is to develop your character’s emotion. As they use the five senses to take in their surroundings, how do they feel? What are they thinking?
And just as important, what are they doing? The environment and circumstances that happen to your character should cause them to react. How do their emotions turn into actions? What causes them to act the way they act? As you let your character explore their emotions and their actions an underdeveloped scene can find deep meaning and strength.
It is fair to recognize that some of the senses won’t be applicable to every single scene. Characters likely won’t always be eating or thinking about food. If one or two of the senses don’t apply to the scene, don’t worry about them. Several of them should be worth describing, so you can focus on those.
It’s also important not to add too much description. This may not be an applicable activity for every scene in your novel. Too much description bores the reader. Use this exercise for the most important moments.
What do you do to develop crucial scenes in your novel?