Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Engage the Senses

Enhance both your writing and Christmas by employing all of your senses.  Early in my writing career I learned that the more senses engaged in a story, the greater impact the story would have on the reader and the more memorable it would be.  In studies not related specifically to writing, I learned this concept holds true in every facet of human life.  Learning is closely linked to the employment of sound, sight, touch, taste, and smell; the more of these senses involved in the learning process the more deeply imbedded in our minds are the concepts learned.  In nothing is this more exemplified than in our memories of Christmas.

The sounds of Christmas bring a flood of memories.  The first Christmas carol or hymn I remember learning was Away in the Manger in a little pre-school Sunday School class in Lost River, Idaho.  That's where I, a little farm girl, understood and my heart was touched by a tiny infant with no bed, but a cow manger.  Star Bright takes me back to a cold crisp Christmas Eve when I stood in our back yard gazing at glittering diamonds in a velvet sky and saw a meteor streak across the sky.  Chimes remind me of Christmas in a small Montana valley where the cold, crisp air carried the ringing of church bells on Christmas morning ringing up every slope.

The sights of Christmas are many.  Lights and color play a prominent role.  I stood among the crowd with swollen feet and belly the first year the lights on Temple Square were lit to mark the season. Nine months pregnant with my first to be born, I stood in awe as the lights proclaimed the miracle of the Savior's birth.  I've always loved the various crèches I've seen displayed and I own several. A neighbor used to set up a live nativity each year with a real donkey, sheep, and a cow. These are among the sights that bring memories flooding back for me.  I don't suppose there is any other day in the calendar when more pictures are taken than Christmas.  I love looking at those pictures of Christmases past and seeing the wonder in the eyes of my children and grandchildren and remembering the concerts, school programs, and trips to visit Santa they represent. Each of the thirty-five nutcrackers I display each Christmas in my home visually reminds me of precious events and people.  And is there anyone who doesn't associate the combination of red and green with Christmas?

There's a physical feel to Christmas too.  The prickly touch of pine needles, the soft silk of a shawl worn by my daughters and granddaughters as they take turns being Mary in our family pageant, the metallic key that turns the music boxes, plush velvet of little girls' dresses, the smooth glass of balls that have hung on our Christmas trees for 47 years, and of course my aching feet after each shopping marathon.

Taste and smell are closely linked and of paramount importance at Christmas.  It is said that smell has the capacity to bring back memories more than any of the other senses.  I don't know if this is true, but the scents of pine, cinnamon, chocolate, and oranges are among the most pleasant of odors on earth and they invite warm memories I associate with the holiday season.  Warm bread or rolls, roasting goose, peppermint candy canes, chocolate  covered cherries, nuts, fudge divinity, apple pie with a heaping scoop of vanilla ice cream, waffles with chokecherry syrup, bacon, clam chowder, pineapple slices---the list is endless of the foods that make up our Christmas feasts.

Christmas is a time for memories, for reflections on the birth of Christ, for giving and sharing, for families, for celebration, and for quiet prayer.  Christmas is the most celebrated holiday in the western world and its impact is felt so strongly because our worship is linked to all of our senses.  Inviting readers to view our stories through their senses is something every writer should remember.

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