Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Using the Five Senses - Summer in the City

On my website, I mention that I grew up in Brooklyn, NY.  I've since lived in a number of places, traveled, had different experiences, etc., but whenever summer rolls around, I always go back to Brooklyn in my mind. 
One of the "rules" of writing is to use all the senses - hearing, sight, smell, taste, touch - when crafting a scene, when creating a place.  Memories are ripe with all of these sensations.

In the rectangle of dirt next to the garage, my grandfather grows fat, red tomatoes that smell like earth tinged with car exhaust, that drip juices laced with the heat of the summer sun.  My sister's Strawberry Shortcake roller skates clatter over the sidewalk as she races up and down the block, from one corner to the other.  My mother's voice floats out the open kitchen window as she talks on the phone to one of my aunts.  Upstairs, my grandmother leans fleshy arms on the windowsill and watches the goings-on of the neighborhood.  My father and grandfather sit on lawn chairs in front of the open garage, the station wagon's pale blue door a memory of an earlier sky.  The ice cream truck rumbles by, its music a siren song.  My grandfather presses crumpled bills into my sweaty palm, and I race away to join the swarm of kids.  But at the edge of the driveway, I stop and look back...just as I stop and look back now. 

In my mind, my father and grandfather still sit in front of that garage but where once they were guardians of home and family, they are now also guardians of memories.  Memories - summer memories, in particular -  often have soft, blurred edges but using all of our senses will bring them back into focus, will sharpen them, not only for yourself, but also for your readers. 

Do you have any special summer memories you'd like to share?  Can you do it using most, if not all, of the five senses? 


  1. Madeline, that was such a beautifully written memory-I almost wished I grew up in Brooklyn (and I really don't like anywhere above the Mason-Dixon line! :-)

    Glad the gang made it through their vet visit okay, btw. And here's something I read last month and LOVED, LOVED, LOVED: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate. It's YA, I think, and recently released. Also loved Lips Touched, 3 Times (YA) and an older book by Neil Gaiman called Stardust.

    Like you, am waiting for Mockingjay. It makes me nervous, just thinking about it. :-)

  2. Thanks, Cathy! I never thought I'd ever live below that Mason Dixon line. You should've seen the first time I tasted grits!

    Thanks, too, for the book recommendations. :)

  3. Wow! Great descriptions I will always remember the swings and getting hosed down in the yard after the beach.

  4. Thanks! We probably brought home enough sand to start our own beach in the driveway. :)