Do you teach sensory description to your students? It is fairly commonplace practice to encourage students to add sensory details to their writing. What do you want your reader to hear? See? Smell? Recently though, I read a blog that shifted my thinking a bit about sensory details. I subscribe to The Write Practice, which delivers daily writing tips and practice exercises to my inbox. In a recent post, freelance guest writer Lizzie Davey suggested that we write without sight. Lizzie asserts that writers can skip the visual descriptions altogether. Instead, writers should focus solely on the other four senses. This, Lizzie argues, will paint a stronger, three-dimensional image for the reader.
I decided to give it a try. First, I described my office using my sight:
I sit in my white-walled office with the door closed. Directly across from me is a small table donning a black tablecloth. Perched atop the table is a photograph of me and my mother from my college graduation. A vase of fake purple flowers nearly obstructs my view. It seems everywhere I look, I see books. Professional books behind me in the large bookcase and hundreds of picture books in the smaller bookshelf to my left. My desk is neat and tidy, except for my planner and computer which is open to the WordPress interface. A teal blue chair beckons any visitors to my office to come in and sit down. Pictures of Maddie and Katie appear sporadically, some in frames, some tacked to bulletin boards.
Now, here is another version using all of my senses, except for sight:
Although my office door is closed, I hear the faint murmur of teachers talking in the hallway as they wait for the students to come inside for recess. Occasionally, the cadence of kids’ footsteps trample by. The steady buzz of my computer is interrupted by a distant toilet flushing or a dropped hall pass clattering to the floor. My office smells as it always does: of books. Every now and again the faint odor of stale cafeteria food threatens to overcome my bookish sanctuary. My body presses down on the uncomfortable cushion underneath. I seem to grow heavier as the day wears on. No matter how I try, I cannot get comfortable in this chair. My wrists strain as I continue to click and clack on the keys.
Hmmmm. Maybe Lizzie is on to something here. The second version seems to do more than simply paint a picture. It actually transports the reader into my office with me. I will keep this in mind next time I aim to do some descriptive writing. Perhaps my reader will see more when I write without sight.
Literacy Coach, Reader, Writer