What’s a tree? (Encore)

My niece, a medical receptionist, witnessed something inspiring last week in the waiting room at the doctor’s office where she works. There were a number of people waiting to see the doctor, and among them was a little girl about four years old. Bella XmasShe sat quietly beside her mother when she noticed a little boy in the waiting room. The girl asked her mother what was wrong with the boy, and her mother answered that he appeared to be blind.

The little girl didn’t understand what that meant and asked for an explanation which her mother quietly supplied.

At this point, my niece went back to her paperwork. But a short while later she heard the little girl talking again and looked up out of curiosity.

She saw the little blind boy smiling as he held hands with the little girl. She had closed her eyes tight and was doing her best to describe for the boy what a tree looked like.

When things like this happen, it restores my faith in mankind.

It also made me think about how difficult that little girl’s job would be. Can you imagine trying to describe a tree to someone who’d never been able to see anything? Where would you even start?

childs drawing of treeOne of the most powerful tools a writer can employ is sensory presentation–using all the senses to convey information, not just that which can be seen. This means expressing story detail that relies on touch, taste, texture and aroma. How big is a tree? What does it feel like? Does it have a smell?

It’s possible to stretch the sensory issue even more. Most people have nine senses. In addition to the five listed above, and originally noted by Aristotle, there are also the senses of pain, balance, heat and body awareness–we know where our body parts are without looking at them or touching something. Neurologists have suggested many others, like hunger, thirst, or the sense of danger, senses included in countless narratives.

I have to tip my hat to the little girl in that waiting room. If she managed to get her ideas across, she may have a brilliant future ahead of her as a writer.

For the rest of us, especially the writers? We’d be wise to learn from her. If for no other reason, some of our “readers” will be getting their information from audiobooks.


About joshlangston

Grateful and well-loved husband, happy grandparent, novelist, editor, and teacher. My life plate is full, and I couldn't be happier. Anything else I might add would be anticlimactic. Cheers!
This entry was posted in Historical writing, Memoir, novel writing, short fiction, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to What’s a tree? (Encore)

  1. Doris Reidy says:

    Love this story!

  2. What a great example and so true. Describing the different senses is something I try to remember to include in everything I write…

  3. Annel B Martin says:

    This is a beautiful heart-touching story and so true. I would have loved to have heard the little girl’s description too, Josh. What a precious child? I don’t always think about using the other senses you mentioned in this story. (But, I sure feel some of them).

    • joshlangston says:

      What fascinates me is the way the little girl dove into the opportunity, head-first. It apparently never occurred to her how difficult it might be, at least for older folk like us.

  4. polinto says:

    She looks so much like Annie.

    Sent from my iPhone


  5. Freddie Lloyd Blackwell says:


  6. Joint Email says:

    Love this post! You always inspire me, Josh. ❤️

    Karen Woodcock

    Sent from my iPad


  7. Gerald Flinchum says:

    Great post, never figured in 9 different senses. Will try out some more in my novelette project;
    Owch! I burned my foot, now spilled my beer in my lap, was that a bullet that went by my ear? Did that thing move?

  8. Barty Pencek says:

    Thx Josh. That was wonderful and thought provoking.

  9. Barry Womack says:

    I’ve heard you talk about sensory information and its impact on the reader at least a half-dozen times, but the image of holding a reader’s hand as I I walk him through a story using his senses resonates. Sometimes I forget how talented a teacher your are. Thanks, Josh.

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