Today’s post is part of the Christian Writers blog chain. The theme this month is savor. Well, here goes!
Last Sunday was my weekend to play keyboard at church. Rehearsal time for the band is 7:15 AM. I like to get there around 7:00 AM to make sure I have time to get set up, which means I have to leave about 6:45 AM.
On they way to church, I treated myself to a McDonald’s sausage burrito. I stopped at the first drive-through window and paid the clerk. My mouth watered as I anticipated the warm, artificial cheese, pork product, and reconstituted egg goodness. Then, I arrived at the second window: the one with the food. The clerk handed me my coffee first and the bag second. The bag with the food—the food that would sustain me through a 7:15 AM rehearsal.
Almost drooling, I parked my SUV, removed the burrito and opened the wrapper. And that’s when then odor hit me. The thing smelled like Play-Doh. I have nothing against the smell of Play-Doh, but not in my food. And what’s worse, the burrito tasted like it smelled. Because I was still hungry, I held my breath and consumed the salty, doughy conglomeration of food-like substances. I didn’t savor my Sunday breakfast.
By its nature, fast food is not meant to be savored. It’s designed to be prepared, sold, and eaten quickly and cheaply. It doesn’t last. It doesn’t taste good. It’s fast, cheap food for fast, cheap living. The opposite of savoring.
Being a writer geek, I immediately applied this experience to my writing, to how I like to write and what I like to read. Savoring is an act of the senses. When you savor something, you take the time contemplate what you’re experiencing. When I read, I want to know what the character feels, tastes, and smells. That is also how I like to write. As an example, I’m going to discuss two passages, one that I can savor over and over, and another where the author could have done a better job. I’m going to start with the latter first.
My first example is from Amanda Hocking’s novel, Hollowland. If you’re not familiar with Amanda Hocking, she’s a self-published author who has sold about eleventy-kabillion ebooks on Amazon.com. I have nothing against self publishing. In fact, [[SHAMELESS PLUG WARNING]] I’ve finally decided to self publish my own book, Oath of the Brother Blade, in the next few weeks. However, I think I would be safe to say that Hocking’s books are the literary equivalent of fast food. She can crank out a novel in about a week or two, and her books range in price from free to $2.99. Nothing wrong with a fast food book every once in a while, but you don’t want to make it your complete diet.
Hollowland is set in the very near future in which civilization has been run over by a zombies. In this scene, the main character is removing a gun from the hand of a dead soldier:
The thick ooze of zombie blood covered my hands, and I grimaced. I finally found the clip, along with his service revolver. He’d been using a semi-automatic shotgun, and it was still in his hands. I pulled it free, hating the way it felt to loosen a dead man’s grip.
In writing, you don’t always savor pleasant sensations. In this passage, Hocking missed out on a wonderful opportunity for some major gross-out savoring. The passage leaves me with lots of questions. What did the zombie blood smell like? Was it still warm? What did it feel like on her skin? Did it burn? Was she worried about getting the zombie disease from touching the infected blood? Was the dead man’s hand still warm? Was it stiff? Did touching it remind her of her boyfriend’s hand?
Since this is the first time we see up close the effects of a zombie attack, Hocking should have taken advantage of this scene to draw us into the visceral, disgusting, traumatic horrors of a post-apocalyptic zombie-infested world. However, we’re only given a scant description of what should have been a shocking scene.
My next example of savoring is from Tosca Lee’s novel, Havah, a story of about and Eve told through the point-of-view of Eve. In Havah, Lee masterfully allows us to savor all the delights of Eden that Eve experienced in her newly created body. It also demonstrates the horrors of sin after Adam and Eve disobey God.
In the following scene, Adam leads Eve to experience water in a river for the first time:
We entered the water. I gasped as it tickled the backs of my knees and hot hairs under my arms, swirling about my waist as though and around a staunch rock as our toes skimmed a multitude of pebbles.
This passage is only two sentences long, but it’s a masterpiece of showing through the senses. Lee doesn’t say that water is cool, clear, deep, and gently flowing. However, we know the water is cool because Eve gasps when she steps in. We know the water flows gently because it tickles the backs of her knees and the hair in her armpits. (Yes, everyone, Eve had hairy armpits. But the big question is, did pre-fallen bodies get BO?) And we know the water is clear because even though it goes up to her armpits, she can still see the pebbles under her toes.
So how about you? Have you read anything that draws you in with the senses, that makes you want to savor each word? Do you know any authors who are especially good at writing for the senses? I’d love to know.