109 years after Lucy Maud Montgomery’s novel was published, Anne Shirley–orphan, castaway, joyful heart–continues to invigorate and inspire us. One way the novel continues to inspire me is the luscious, exuberant way in which it was written by L.M.M., or “Maud” as she was called. Her fat, buttery words and her usage of the five senses model how to elevate my own writing.
A few summers ago, I founded a writing day camp for kids ages 10-14. I wanted to give back some of what I have learned over the years to kids whose eyes shone with the same writing dreams I used to have. I always draw a mix of dreamers, zanies, and goofballs–storytellers, each one.
One of our Writer’s Camp Big Ideas is a concept evidenced over and over in “Anne of Green Gables”: Writing with the Five Senses. The best writers in the world are always mindful of colors, textures, smells, sounds, and tastes. It’s thrilling to me to teach this super easy technique to young writers, because they can use it now, when they are TWELVE, and not even have to wait to grow up first!
Here are five succulent quotes from Maud’s literary daughter, Anne, with a short piece of advice on how to implement each sense into whatever it is you are writing, from short stories to non-fiction to blogs to Instagram posts (trust me, Anne would approve!):
Sight: “Look at that sea, girls–all silver and shadow and vision of things not seen.”
Just like an interior designer adds a pop of color to their rooms, writers should add little splashes and dashes of yellow, orange, blue, silver et al to brighten up their stories. (Check out Pantone.com –you know, the Color of the Year people–for endless color ideas.)
2. Touch: “Don’t you just love poetry that gives you a crinkly feeling up and down your back?”
The sense of touch can be painful or pleasurable. Make it pleasurable, like the feel of cool cotton sheets or the “crinkly feeling up and down your back,” and the reader will feel the softness, coolness, and crinkles, too!
3.Smell: “Anne always remembered the silvery, peaceful beauty and fragrant calm of that night.”
The best of the best writers use smell in their writing. Scientists tell us that the nose is an emotional time machine in that smells evoke memory far more than any other sense. A character can remember a loving grandma when she smells roast beef roasting, or a neglectful foster family when she smells curdled milk. (Check out this blog I wrote awhile back about using the sense of smell in your writing: http://breatheconference.com/home/featured-articles/writing-with-the-sense-of-smell.html)
4. Taste: “I love bright red drinks, don’t you? They taste twice as good as any other color.”
Watch how Maud adds a pop of color and incorporates taste into her story! Like spices, just a dab will do you. Good writers are always on the lookout for ways to add some tang and flavor into our word choices.
5. Sound: “And then—thwack! Anne had brought her slate down on Gilbert’s head and cracked it—slate not head—clear across.”
Ouch. That hurt. The use of “thwack!” helps us really hear just how painful Anne’s attack on Gilbert really was. When writing, think about including a “soundtrack” for your readers. What are your characters hearing as you move them through the story? If you’re writing non-fiction, what are you hearing, smelling, tasting and touching as you write about your topic? For example, I may write a piece (or at least a post) about the Oswald Bear Ranch in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I was just there last week with my family, and what stands out the most to me is not the wiry, bristly texture of the baby bear’s back (why yes, I paid $10 to have our photo taken with a bear), but rather the singular slurping sound we heard as a bear drank from a creek just feet away from us.
Be like Maud, always thinking about the five senses as you write. What colors is your character seeing? What textures is he touching? What smells is she smelling? What tastes are they tasting? Whether you are writing a news report, a speech, a story, or a novel, using this simple trick makes your writing zing—and adds lots of scope for the imagination!
What is your favorite sense to write about or read about? What is your favorite of Maud’s “sensory” word pictures?