By Louise Nayer
Drawing readers into your world through sensory detail is what makes your pages come alive. Whether it’s the bitter taste of coffee in your mouth the day your father dies, or the creamy smell of a chocolate éclair as you pass a bakery and remember how you and your sister giggled with whipped cream coating your teeth—these details engage the reader and create a rich landscape for your memoir. Without these details, the writing is flat.
Use All Your Senses
People often default to sight as their main sense (as long as they’re sighted) and forget to add smell, taste, touch and sound. Go through one day listening for sounds: the patter of rain against a windowpane, rustling of papers by your work colleague, or the groan of an airplane overhead. Another day you can listen for smells. Find unique words–briny rather than salty—velvety rather than sweet. Use a thesaurus. The details often spring from the story.
Senses to Convey Emotions
In Burned: A Memoir, I wrote about the moldy spots on the ceiling of our neighbor’s basement the morning after my parents were burned and disappeared into hospitals. If you’re in love, you might not notice the peeling paint on the outside of the barn. If you’re sad, you might see the broken windowpane or smell something rotting. When describing a moment when you’re nervous, the sound of the fluorescent lights can suddenly sound piercing. Though memoir springs from a true story, you are still the one pulling your readers into your unique and textured world.