Sensory perception refers to the level of awareness we bring to our external and internal worlds. In addition to our eyes, ears, skins, noses and tongues acting as filters for a range of external stimuli, we also have an internal map of knowledge consisting of thoughts, values, beliefs and a sense of self. A certain threshold of awareness of both these references is necessary for effective learning and communication. Increased sensory perception will help you to make more detailed and accurate observations about yourself and the world around you, an important life skill for personal development and relationship building that will serve you well in creative writing too.
Goal-setting requires SENSORY qualities
Your progress toward a goal must be measurable every step of the way. It’s good goal-setting practice to create a detailed mental image of the desired outcome—focus on the following questions:
- What do you see?
- What do you hear?
- What do you feel?
- What thoughts are you saying to yourself?
- What emotions are you experiencing?
- Where do you feel it in your body?
- How do others respond to you?
In NLP life coaching, a sensory description of your goal gives you an explicit reference for evaluating ongoing progress and the end result to know whether you are successful.
Goal-setting for WRITERS
Find some quiet time, sit back and relax. Exercise your sensory muscles by meditating on the following:
- Recall what your best friend from school looked like?
- What would it look like if sunsets were green, instead of orange?
- What is the most common phrase you usually say to yourself?
- Spell your name out loud, then say it out loud backward.
- Recall the smell of honey, then imagine eating a slice of warm, fresh bread dripping with sticky honey.
- Fully access a memory of the most relaxing experience you’ve ever had; focus on where and how this sensation is manifesting in your body now.
- Imagine what it would feel like to run over silky soft grass with your bare feet.
- What was the saddest news you’ve ever received?
- Describe your present state—what emotion are you experiencing right now; where and how is it manifesting in your body?
Now that you have stretched your sensory muscles, take note of the smell, taste, external sound, internal voice, emotion and kinesthetic quality associated with a particular visual image as you contemplate your creativity and productivity in the past, how you think and feel about yourself and the way you’re currently performing, and what you imagine could be possible in the future. Remember, mental images rich in sensory detail are more compelling than those that are flat, dull, scentless, insipid, dissonant and inanimate.
Goal-setting is also a LITERARY concept
Not only do goals motivate WRITERS to be productive and creative but they inspire the actions of STORY CHARACTERS too—on the flip side, however, their actions may lead to the breakdown of their goals.
I suggest you look at the value of sensory perception in the context of creative writing as it pertains to character development through a study of Lionel’s Shriver’s novel: So Much For That. You might want to refer to the introduction as well as #1 and #2 of this series for a recap of the book description before continuing with this part of the discussion.
That Shep Knacker is a meticulous planner is no overstatement. We see in the book description that his key expectation of the ‘Afterlife’ is to be fully alive: “Traffic jams on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway will be replaced with talking, thinking, seeing, and being—and enough sleep.” We learn early on that the couple’s vacations were really “research trips,” jotting down practical details like the local electricity current of a specific destination. His observation skills obviously stem from childhood, and as early as that he demonstrated a practical mindset—at age sixteen, when he learned on a trip to Kenya that it was cheap to live in Africa, he asked his father, “So why don’t we take our savings and move here?” Shep Knacker plays it safe: he “always packed too much, covering for every contingency.” On top of that, he’s in touch with the metaphysical aspects of his life: “Like it or not, Shep’s element was water. Adaptive, easily manipulated, and prone to taking the path of least resistance, he went with the flow, as they said in his youth.”
So, what do you think readers can expect from Shep’s state of mind as his dream fades in the face of what fate has in store for him? Here’s an indication: “Carol asked how he thought Glynis was taking it, and Shep said that she was pissed off but that she was always pissed off, so it was hard to tell. Then Carol asked how Shep was taking it, and he seemed to find the question irrelevant. Obviously I’m scared, he said, but I can’t afford to be scared, or to be anything else, either. I’m the one who has to keep it together. So it doesn’t matter how I am. I don’t matter anymore. It was the first thing he’d said all day with real passion.” Later, toward the end of the book when Shep activates his dream again, he tells Glynis, “[Pemba is] warm [and the] beaches are white. The trees are tall, The fish is fresh. And the breeze is spiced with cloves.”
Imagine how you could use sensory descriptions as an explicit reference of where your character is ‘at’ in terms of his issues, goals, obstacles and success.
Follow my blog to learn more about CREATIVE WRITING as well as the dynamics of BEHAVIOR CHANGE and CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT and how to implement these concepts in storytelling. Please watch out for the publication of my creative writing guide (title and publication date TBA soon), which will offer a more comprehensive discussion on Story and Character Development based on a Life Coaching Model.