by Ellen Buikema
Touch is a basic human need. It’s the first sense we develop and our first social interaction at birth.
Imagine walking barefoot through a forest. The softness of moss between your toes, the cool slime of mud, the pokes and scratches of pine needles, sticks, and stones.
Think of the kitchen and the intense heat of the oven. Remember kneading and punching bread dough, making deep indentations in the mixture, releasing stored aggression on the dough. (Good therapy.)
Touch has two different systems, factual (location, movement, and pressure) and emotional. Both types are used in writing.
Close your eyes and pick something up.
These details will help bring a reader deeper into the story.
Remember playing a game where you put your hand into a box and try to guess what’s inside by touch? Or perhaps experience the Boca de Veritas or Bocca della Verità? If you put your hand in the statue’s mouth and tell a lie, the bocca (mouth) will slam shut and bite it off.
Don't hesitate to include tactile sensations in your writing. Give us the slick, tackiness of blood between the antagonist’s fingers, the weight of the knife, the damp Spanish moss against her exposed skin as she lay on the forest floor. Let us feel her excitement, panic, elation, whatever emotion she is feeling, and draw us deeper into the story.
“She approached the couple and watched them for a moment. They looked pathetic, writhing down there in the sand and fumbling at each other’s clothes like desperate, love-struck teenagers. They disgusted her.
The male sensed her presence and turned to face her. She immediately noticed the fear behind his stubborn glare and it aroused her. Her scar throbbed and pulsated as she withdrew the knife from the sheath and dragged it across his throat. As the blade tore through flesh and sinew she once more heard the retort of the rifle, felt her cheekbone shatter. The blood poured from him just as the blood had spurted from the wound in the deer’s throat.”
― Stacey Dighton, The Hawk and the Raven
Slapstick is a visual art, born in ancient Greece and Rome as mime and pantomime, and successfully used on the big screen as in this example, Make ‘Em Laugh from Singing In The Rain.
“I jammed my key into the door lock and . . . And it wouldn’t fit. I tried again. No joy. Half-panicked, I ran to each of the others, but every single one of the locks was out of commission. I was going to bust out a window, but checked the car’s ignition through it first. It had been packed with what looked like chewing gum. The Munstermobile had . . . Had been sabotaged. With gum and superglue. It was a trick I’d had Toot and company play on others more than once. And now what I had done to others had been done unto me at the damnedest moment imaginable. ‘Aggggh!’ I screamed. ‘I hate ironic reversal!’”
― Jim Butcher, The Dresden Files: Cold Days
Touch is crucial when writing romance. When writing a physical scene in a romance novel, don’t forget that touch is a two-way street. They are both feeling something.
Let your characters feel the goosebumps on each other’s skin, how the palm senses the texture of their hair, the sensation of lips touching. Minor details like the gliding of bedsheets or the touch of the sultry night air are essential to writing a good love scene.
“Love should feel like the first time you gallop a horse flat out. It should make your blood sing. It should terrify you. And some part of you should recognize it the first time you meet the other person’s eyes.”
— Audrey Coulthurst, Of Fire and Stars
Whether it’s the sting of a skinned knee, the wind tearing your eyes as you fly down a mountain on skis, or butterfly kisses on your cheek, touch provides a deep human need. Tactile sensory information draws your readers into the story.
Resources for further reading:
How do you approach the tactile elements in your writing? Do you have any examples of writing using the sense of touch you’d like to share?
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Author, speaker, and former teacher, Ellen L. Buikema has written non-fiction for parents and a series of chapter books for children with stories encouraging the development of empathy—sprinkling humor wherever possible. Her Works In Progress are, The Hobo Code, YA historical fiction and Crystal Memories, YA fantasy.
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