THE FIVE SENSES
How human beings interpret and respond to the world around us makes us who we are. Novelists, aspire to make their characters vivid and to imbue them with realistic emotions, actions, and reactions. It’s all in the emotions: how characters feel, act, and react.
The five senses – sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch – are our doorway into the world. They are complimented by four internal senses: pain, balance, thirst, and hunger. Each of the five senses function independently, but they interact and complement one another.
When the input from all the senses is processed by the brain, various highly intertwined emotions and feelings occur. What we hear, see, taste, smell, and touch provides us with information which tells us how to feel.
Image Source: alabamasinus.com/ears/
● If a tree falls on an uninhabited island with no one to hear, does it really make a sound?
Hearing (Audition) ‒ the second most used of the senses ‒ is the mechanism by which humans perceive sounds which occur both outside and inside the body. i.e. the sense of detecting sound and receiving information about the environment from vibratory movement communicated through a medium such as air, water, or ground.
Sound is a vibratory movement, also in the form of a wave, created by a disturbance in pressure. This is communicated to the hearing apparatus through any environmental medium, i.e. solids, liquids, and gases. In other words, hearing is another way in which a person’s sensory cells respond to a specific kind of physical energy (both internal and external stimuli), which are converted into nerve impulses that travel to the brain.
Scientifically, all vibratory phenomena are under the general category of "sound," even when they lie outside the range of human hearing. [That answers the question. Yes, there is sound whether someone hears it or not.]
● Anatomy of the Ear
Like other sensory organs, the ear is responsible for gathering data (sound waves) from the environment and translating them into a form that our brains can understand. The ear itself functions in three steps: collecting the vibrations, converting the vibration into mechanical energy, and relaying each as an electrical impulse to be interpreted by the brain.
• Outer Ear
The outer ear captures the sound waves which move through the auricle and the auditory canal to the eardrum (called the tympanic membrane). There the vibrations are translated into nerve impulses.
Image Source: ohniww.org/general-overview/
The tympanic membrane is attached to the first bone in the ossicular chain of three small bones, the malleus, incus, and stapes. The three bones propel one another sequentially, ultimately striking a coiled chamber filled with fluid, called the cochlea.
• Inner Ear
The primary role of the inner ear is played by the cochlea. The cochlea’s oval window is the membranous barrier between the middle and inner ear. When the last bone in the middle ear strikes the oval window, the resonance is carried through the fluid.
The bottom layer of the cochlea is covered by a layer of microscopic hair cells, each stimulated by specific frequencies, or pitches, of sound waves/vibrations. Once stimulated by the movement of the fluid, they relay that information to the brain via the auditory nerve to be interpreted in the brain as sound.
Exposure to too much loud sound can break off those tiny hairs, and they do not grow back.
● Sound Waves
A sound wave is a disturbance that creates a region of high pressure (compression) followed by one of low pressure (rarefaction). These variations in pressure are transferred to adjacent regions in the form of a spherical wave radiating outward from the disturbance. Sound is therefore characterized by the properties of waves, such as frequency, wavelength, period, amplitude, and velocity.
The mechanisms of human hearing transform sound waves by the combined operation of the outer ear, middle ear, and inner ear, into nerve impulses transmitted to the appropriate part of the brain. From there the brain takes over, runs the sounds through the personal filters, and decides what is worth keep. It sends that part off to the proper long-term memory.
Again, how the system work is less important to writers than which sounds we remember, how we react to them, and the corresponding emotions or feelings.
● Direction and Distance
By having two ears, humans (and animals) can determine the direction of the sound they hear. Processing the time lag and difference in volume provides the perception of direction. An ear on each side of the head allows humans to distinguish whether a sound is coming from the left or the right. You can also easily distinguish whether the sound, particularly high frequency sound, is coming from above you, below, or right in your face.
The height information is detected by a small amount of reflection off the back edge of the ear lobe. This reflection is out of phase for one specific sound frequency, and the elongated shape of the lobe causes the frequency to vary with angle of the source of sound. You can then tell the direction. Height detection does not work well for sounds originating to the side or back, or those lacking high frequency content. Volume and sound quality also help to determine the distance a sound is coming from.
The wavelength of the sound and its tone are also important pieces of information for the brain to determine the direction of the sound source. Sound coming from one direction will reach the ear furthest away approximately 1/500 second later than the closer ear, and our brains can distinguish this time lag.
WRITING TIPS ON USING SOUND
• Example 1 - External sounds as triggers to memory, emotions, and reactions.
If your character, as a small child, was in a terrible car accident in a thunder and lightning storm, that crippled her father, it makes sense for that character, as an adult, to be terrified by thunder and lighting and have strong, probably-negative emotions in any similar event. Perhaps she runs away every time she hears thunder close by. The man she loves doesn’t know about that pattern, and he proposes marriage when it is raining, just before a blot of thunder hits. When she runs away, he might believe she was running from him.
This example is very simplistic. External sounds make good triggers for memories and related emotions, particularly fear, and how a character reacts to that emotion. That is nothing new, and novelists use this all the time without thinking about it.
• Example 2 - Sound of Voice
A sound that is often overlooked in writing, however, is the sound of a person’s voice. One aspect is the particular voice of a particular person. The sound that distinguishes one character from another. A southern twang, perhaps. It doesn’t even have to be unusual.
The other dimension, where writers often get lazy, is Tone of Voice. Author Lisa Hall Wilson says, “Tone of voice is incredibly powerful and often overlooked in fiction. We’re tempted to shortcut things – he exclaimed, she whispered, she said anxiously. Sometimes our voices change unconsciously, but the change can be heard, and sometimes it’s intentional. When intentional, we can affect our voice to convey emotion or attempt to invoke it in another person.”
Oftentimes, writers have been advised to stick with short dialogue tags like, “she said”, “he replied”. You have to choose the correct times to do more than that. There is more to tone of voice than volume, such as speed, pauses, cadence, pitch, trailing off sentences and, believe it or not, punctuation
• “Get out,” he said in a flat voice.
That sentence does not convey much in the way of emotions, except, perhaps the rather harsh choice of words.
• “Get out!” he yelled.
I hear anger or disgust and impatience.
• “Get out!” he joked and started laughing.
Just playing around.
I once had a boss spoke with punctuation. He might have well have said “period”, “question mark”, or “exclamation point” at the end of each sentence. He always paused appropriately at commas, and so on. It was a little off-putting at first ‒ I got used to it ‒ and you never, never misunderstood what he meant.
Tone of Voice and other aspects of speaking can surprise readers with emotions they don’t see coming. It also gives greater depth to your characters. Examples include:
• Shaky Voice
Changing both pitch and volume can imply nervousness, overstimulation, exhaustion.
• Change in Pitch
Changing pitch can imply romantic interest, deference, or vulnerability. A sudden higher pitch is a signal of nervousness or anxiety. A sudden lowering of pitch can indicate vulnerability, a desire to hide.
Speaking louder or softer, faster or slower can imply interest. Monotone voices imply boredom, nervousness, lack of enthusiasm. Rising inflection at the end of a phrase, implies a question.
Getting very quiet signals feeling vulnerable or overwhelmed, nervous, anxious, tired, fearful, etc. Getting loud is sometimes just to be heard, to clarify ourselves, frustration, nervous, angry, etc
• Dry Throat/Loss of Voice/Hoarse Voice
Having a suddenly dry throat or hoarse voice conveys nervousness, anxiety, panic, fear, stress, etc
Expressing one’s self without hesitance and with confidence implies being comfortable and sure of one’s self. Expressing one’s self with ums and ahs, stumbling over words, or repeating, can imply nervousness, anxiety, fear, vulnerability, excitement, surprise, overwhelmed, etc.
Using the proper tone can imply assertiveness, playfulness, authority, or declarative. You can tell when a person feels strongly about what they are talking about. Speaking loudly, faster, with lots of cadence, and punctuating with sharp movements and clipped words can imply passion, excitement, frustration, redemptive anger, stress, sadness, joy, fear.
By not taking advantage of the many nuances of the speaking voice, writers lose good opportunities to show characters’ emotions rather than telling.
• Example 3 - Using sound to set the mood.
The sense of sound can be powerful. Consider a forest with the chirping of many small birds, the rustle of small mammals moving through the softly falling leaves, or the whispering of a breeze through the trees sets a rather peaceful and pleasant mood. Or this same forest could resonate with the howl of an unidentifiable animal hunting its prey not far off. Branches creak above your head, followed by the snap of twigs as the wind moans through the tree as if in pain.
• Example 4 - Use onomatopoeia to capture the sounds of a scene, (but don’t overdo it. Less is more.)
Image Source: huffingtonpost.co.uk/neuroscience-touch
The sense of touch is the faculty by which external objects or forces are perceived through contact with the body (especially the hands). The tactile sense is also referred to as sense of touch; the skin senses; the touch modality; the coetaneous senses.
Sight and touch together enable us to locate objects in the space.
Still, touch is an easy sense to overlook, simple because we are always touching something; clothes, or if you’re not wearing any, the air and temperature are still there. We get to the point of not thinking about it.
● Anatomy of the Skin
Our skin, which is the largest organ of the body, serves as a protective barrier between our internal systems and the outside world. The skin’s “sense of touch” is what gives our brains a wealth of information about the natural environment, including temperature, humidity, and air pressure. Most importantly, this sense allows us to feel physical pain for the purposes of attempting to avoid injury, disease, and danger.
The top layer of skin, the epidermis, is what we see. It contains very sensitive cells called touch receptors which, like our receptors for other senses, send information to the brain for processing.
The second layer, the dermis, contains hair follicles, sweat glands, sebaceous (oil) glands, blood vessels, nerve endings, and a wide variety of touch receptors called the Somatosensory System
The somatosensory system , a huge network of nerve endings and touch receptors in the skin, controls our ability to sense all the touch sensations we feel ‒ cold, hot, smooth, rough, pressure, tickle, itch, pain, vibrations, and more. Within the somatosensory system, there are four main types of receptors.
• Mechanoreceptors are those receptors which perceive sensations such as pressure, vibrations, and texture. These four types respond to indentations and vibrations of the skin. They are generally found in non-hairy skin such as the palms, lips, tongue, soles of feet, fingertips, eyelids, and the face.
Different receptors are slowly adapting and others, rapidly adapting receptors, enabling the skin to perceive both when you are touching something and how long the object is touching the skin. Still other receptors feel sensations such as vibrations traveling down bones and tendons, rotational movement of limbs, and the stretching of skin.
• Thermoreceptors are those receptors which recognize sensations related to the temperature.
• Nocireceptors (pain receptors) detect pain or stimuli that can or does cause damage to the skin and other tissues of the body. There are over three million pain receptors throughout the body, found in skin, muscles, bones, blood vessels, and some organs.
• Proprioceptors sense the position of the different parts of the body in relation to each other and the surrounding environment. They are found in tendons, muscles, and joint capsules.
When the receptors receive the information, the neurons in the nervous system takes on the task of transmitting messages to the brain and carrying back messages from the brain. This allows the brain to communicate with the body. Like the other senses, the brain decides what to keep and stores those sensation in long-term memory.
● Types Of Touch
• Light touch is called a protective touch because it is designed to keep us safe. It respons to anything that brushes the skin lightly and can include tickling. Light touch will usually set off our body’s protective warning system.
• Discriminative touch is the part of the system which provides very specific and detailed information about what you are touching or where you have been touched. Your brain gets an enormous amount of information about the texture of objects through your fingertips because the ridges that make up your fingerprints are full of these sensitive mechanoreceptors.
• Touch pressure (deep touch pressure) is a firmer touch or a squeeze. It works alongside the discriminative touch pathway.
● Tolerance Levels
People have different tolerance levels to touch sensory inputs, categorized as these basic responses.
• Slow responses to touch sensory input:
• Seeking out touch sensory input
• Sensitivity to touch sensory input
This is particularly important to using the sense of touch in writing. Different characters would have varying tolerances for touch.
● Writing Tips On Using Touch
Using the sense of touch also is powerful when setting the mood and arousing emotions. Touch also captures sensations that typically occur internally, like your experience of temperature, pain, and pleasure.
• Example 1
Write about what it feels like to sit in your office chair. How does your body feel? Where are your points of contact? The places where you feel sore or stiff? What emotions does it evoke? Now write about how it feels to sit in your favorite chair. How does your body feel different? Where is your weight situated? Is your mood and/or emotions different?
• Example 2
Because our hands have a higher density of receptors, we are likely to think of touch as the way we feel when we touch something, which is often with the hands and often related to texture and weight.
Remember: The sense of touch is from your whole body, and it is not just the way objects feel when we touch them, but also what we feel when something touches us and the emotions and reactions. Receptors which perceive sensations such as pressure, vibrations, and texture are generally located in the palms, lips, tongue, soles of feet, fingertips, eyelids, and the face.
When you put your arm around your spouse, it feels one way and evokes certain feelings and emotions. When your spouse puts an arm around you and squeezes your shoulder, the feelings and emotions may change. If a complete stranger puts an arm around you and squeezes your shoulder, the feelings and emotions will definitely be unlike the other scenarios… and also the reactions.
JUST SAYIN' !