Thursday, July 10, 2008

7 senses?

I do a workshop about rewriting in which I tell students to check every scene for Action, Conflict, Surprise, Emotional Shift, and the Five Senses. Well, here's a surprise. The last couple of days, I've been re-reading one of my favorite autobiographies. It's called Dancing Naked in the Mind Fields, and it was written by Kary Mullis who won a Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1993 for inventing the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) that revolutionized DNA chemistry. Mullis is a wild man, a surfer, astrologer, a maybe-alien-abductee, LSD taking, legendary goofball and first-class brain. And what he told me in his book is that there are actually seven senses, not five. Perhaps you knew this? I didn't, and I had forgotten it from the first five times I read his book. Hey, I am NOT a legendary brain, heh.

Kary says the 7 senses--our physical windows of perception--are the usual five, plus two he calls "the dubious senses," which are weightlessness, and a sense of the passage of time.

I read that and had an epiphany about my rewriting class, namely that what I call "surprise" is a fictional equivalent of weightlessness, and what I call "emotional shift" is a fictional equivalent of the sense of the passage of time. In the future, because of this, I will talk about putting 7 senses in each scene, and not just five. This will be helpful in getting people to grasp what I mean by "surprise" and "emotional shift," and it will be a wonderful help to me in my own rewriting.

I won't go into detail about the rewriting stuff--it's Friday, for god's sake, and people shouldn't have to think too hard!--but I will say this book seemed to insist on being re-read by me this week. A writer friend of mine received an email from Kary Mullis a couple of days ago, out of the blue. When she told me about it, I got all excited and then sad because I had given his book away the last time I moved. Only, I hadn't. After telling her that I wished I still owned his book, I went down to the basement to watch tv. When the show was over, I got up and looked behind me. The book was under a table, propped up against other books, and facing me so I couldn't miss it. I would have sworn--sworn, I tell you--that I had never seen that book before in this house.

The Mind Field is an interesting place to dance. Oh, and did I mention the show I was watching was "So You Think You Can Dance"? Yep. Hee.


Nancy P said...

I hope I'm not driving anybody crazy by posting the night before. By doing it this way, I can just do it and then relax. And it's all about me, yes?

Friday! I say that as if it means something to me, which it never does, 'cause. . .writer. At home. No weekends or holidays.

If Friday means something to you, however, I want to enjoy it vicariously. So please have a great day! :)

katiebird said...


Wow. I love this post from beginning to end.

Getting 2 new senses is a bonus. I'm just really, really glad I don't have go digging through boxes of books....

Janet said...

Actually this made sense to me since Thursdays are actually my Friday but this particular Friday is more like an actual Thursday since we have a company meeting on Friday at 6 am.


Hey gained two senses without gaining any weight! Whoot!

I have to read the above book. You hooked me. Ha! An author hooking someone on to another author.

(which is ACTUALLY how I find all my favorite treasurs)

I've always felt I had a few extra senses. Ever read Gavin DeBecker's "The Gift of Fear"? It talks about how we women surpressed alot of our inner instincts (feelings/senses) because we'd rather be viewed as nice than protective/noided.

Gotta shovel some food down us and sit and chat with the family. Danni (my daughter) is coming with me to the company meeting. She heard about the breakfast burritos and Columbia Gorge juice.

Goodnight guys. ... or Good morning. :) (actually)

AndiF said...

The crew that comments and lurks here is much too ambitious to be driven crazy by when you post -- we require our crazy-driving to have deep angst, full-realized emotional content, profound significance, and a whole lotta kewl.

paul lamb said...

I'd read a book once that tabulated 12 senses, though some were just breakdowns of the sense of touch (texture, heat/cold). I don't remember all of them but I do remember that the sense of balance is considered a valid one. Also the sense of movement. (These have sense organs in the inner ear as I recall.) I think the sense of pressure was one as well. How many times have you felt pressed back in your seat when someone accelerates a car very quickly? I think that is movement and pressure you are sensing.

Regardless, they are all useful tools for the writer, and really it only takes a bit of dispassionate reflection when experiencing them to understand them well enough to put to use in your writing.

Nancy P said...

katiebird, lol! kb is referring to the fact that when I moved I foisted off on her a ton of my books, which turned out to be a mixed blessing, believe me. Offer her a book now and she may give you the Vampire Cross Sign. Noooooo. . . :D

Nancy P said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nancy P said...

Andif, we should make that our motto. :)

Paul, that is kewl stuff. What this kind of sense-awareness does for me is remind me to stop and try to "feel" those sensations in my own body, which then reminds me to transfer them to my writing.

katiebird said...

I'm thinking about weightlessness as a sense.... I could use some of that.

Nancy P said...

kb, ha! As could I. Actually, Mullis calls weightlessness (the real one) an unpleasant sense that most of us don't like unless we're astronauts.

Anonymous said...

Y'all are way too perky for this early in the morning. Except I guess it's not so early where you are...yawn...

It's 45 in Coeur d'Alene this morning. One of the perks of living in the mountains - hot days, but cool nights.

Thanks for the reminder, Nancy - I thought I was finished with my rewrite, but I forgot the surprises! Back to the mss.

Enjoy your Friday, everyone - even though I don't have a "real" job any more, Bill does, so Friday has begun to mean something to me again. Motorcycle ride along the river tonight!

Waving as I vanish -

Nancy P said...

Motorcycle ride along a river! Beth, how wonderful! Enjoy, enjoy.

Kelly McCullough said...


Got in very late last night, kind of fried. Will have my eggs the same way to trigger sympathetic magical awakening. Glurg. Staggers off to sit in corner and indulge his sense of morning self-pity.

P.S. (Waves madly at Janet)--so glad you're stopping by these days.

Nancy P said...

Whispering a tactful "good morning" to Kelly.

Janet, I'm so glad you're stopping by, too. ::pink puffy heart::

FARfetched said...

Of course it's all about you, Nancy… it's your blog!

"Dubious senses"… that's a good name. I prefer the idea of balance being a sense to weightlessness, though… or perhaps extend it to a sense of orientation (some people can tell you which way is north without any external input, and weightlessness is a complete lack of orientation). The passage of time, yeah I can see that too. In both cases, some people have sharper senses than others.

In that vein, I can see surprise as a sort of emotional unbalancing or even temporary disorientation, in the same way a bright flash of light can cause temporary blindness. I'm not so sure about emotional shifts being related to passage of time, except that any change in any sensual input (visual, audible, touch, etc) is based on time passing.

Off to make a bank deposit… I wish I was on my motorcycle this morning, but the Tuesday rain must have gotten into something and discharged the battery. Meh. Later!

Kimberly Frost said...

Nancy - I love having two new senses. That's very cool!

Beth - riding along the river by motorcycle sounds cool, too. Have a good one!

Anonymous said...

The book you referred to sounds interesting. I'll have to put it on my request list at the library.

The added senses that you and Paul refer to reminded me of Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences, so I refreshed my memory @ wikipedia. Particularly, the spatial and kinesthetic intelligences sound similar to what the two of you describe. While reviewing them, I realized I would identify Andif as being high on the chart of the naturalistic intelligence: "This area has to do with nature, nurturing and relating information to one's natural surroundings." Hmm, I wonder why? Could it be all the spectacular pix she provides us? lol

What do Fridays mean for me? A chance to breathe. Time to call my own. Saturday means doing chores left until during the week because of lack of time. :-/

Have a great day,all!

Nicola Slade said...

Oh, Beth! We could do with some of your hot days here in the south of England - I hate to admit it but this year we are the Living Stereotype of English Weather! Blink and it rains. Sigh.

Weightlessness sounds to me something like the rare but magic moments when you read a page that you've written and think: Where the heck did that come from? Who wrote that? If only they occurred more frequently...

PS Big fan of yours, Nancy, so glad I can actually tell you so!


Nancy P said...

Far, I frequently have dubious sense.
Be careful on that motorcycle on those wet pavements! Duh. As if anybody needs to tell you, right?

Hey, Kimberly!

Anony, now I'll want to look up Gardner's theory.

Nicky, thank you! And how lovely for us to have you here, all the way from England. By the middle of August, we'll envy your weather, I promise.

Anonymous said...

Hi Nicky! I spent 6 years in London, so certainly understand. I remember everyone rushing outside one afternoon when a rumor spread through our school that the sun was shining - we stood on a small patch of grass and gazed lovingly at the strange orb in the sky. Then it disappeared into the clouds, and we sighed and went back to class.

Sending you all of the warmth and sunshine you can handle! Please remember me to my adopted country. I loved my time there, rain, fog and all.

paul lamb said...

Beth - Doesn't Bradbury have a novel or short story set on a planet where the sun rarely shines and a forecasted break in the clouds means a day off of school? I remember it was made into a movie.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, no idea, Paul. Anyone else know? But it could very well have been set in London in the 70's! :-)

Nicola Slade said...

In our defence we do have SOME lovely summers! Just not this year and Oh, it's so depressing when it's gloomy and grey; today both the cats have demanded waterproofs and boots before they go out.
To get away from it, mentally if no other way, I'm currently living in 1858 and the sun is going to shine every day - I refuse to let it rain on my sleuthing heroine!

Rick Bylina said...

On my blog, I have DA GUIDELINEZ FOR THE WRITERS" JOURNEY, which includes guideline #2:

Use the five senses, plus two, to fill out the scenes. Richness of the scene is managed by what your POV character sees, hears, smells, tastes, and touches. Plus, don't forget to pepper lightly your senses with intuition (experience based) and premonition (the anticipation of an event without conscious reason).

Another senseless comment from Rick whose been very quiet lately.

Rick Bylina said...

Frogs leap in the night
At bugs in floodlight
Bump their heads
Bump their butts
Burp loud with delight.

Nancy P said...

Rick, even in silence you are interesting. I love your poem. It's as delightful as a frog burp.

Jen said...

Paul, are you perhaps thinking of All Summer in a Day?