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. She 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?
One 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.