If Your Hero Doesn’t Smell, You May Have a Senseless Novel

“There are three schoolmasters for everybody that will employ them – the senses, intelligent companions, and books.”  — Henry Ward Beecher.

file0002012084757.jpgDo your hero and heroine seldom smell scents, taste flavors, hear sounds, see settings, or touch people and things? If so, you risk readers feeling like your characters live in a vacuum.

As a writer, I know I’m to connect my characters to their surroundings through their God given senses. BUT, I’ve learned there’s an art to it.


  • Don’t dump odors, tastes, sounds, sights, and touches into your scenes.
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  • Weave the five senses into the context of the surroundings and actions of the scene.
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Let’s look at what I mean through examples.

Dumped Aroma

As they walked through the park, Mark turned to Sandy. “Why didn’t you support me when I told the police I was with you.”

“Because I thought they’d say all wives say that.” Was that chocolate she smelled?

“Well, I wish my wife had told the truth and said I was with her.”

The chocolate scent drops in from nowhere and jars readers from the conversation.

Crafted Scent

jmm_0629.jpg“Kenn had the group laughing as they settled down, but it was the sweet haze of Christy’s lavender perfume that finally brought him down into the circle, right beside her, calm and eager.” —Hearts Crossing Ranch by Tanya Hanson

The scent of Christy’s perfume is integral to the action here, drawing Kenn to sit near her.

file000665724379.jpgCrafted Sight and Touch

“Our kickstands flew up, and we rode down Highway 129 wrapped in the beauty of a cotton-candy pink sunset. It was cooling-off time in the mountains and instead of sweltering, we stayed comfortable in our jackets and helmets.” —The Pastor’s Wife Wears Biker Boots by Karla Akins

Can you see the sunset? Though we aren’t shown what’s happening to their skin, I can imagine the coolness on their faces and how comfortably warm their skin is inside their jackets.

Crafted Sound and Sight

file3091274380502.jpg“Jack stood at the admitting desk, dressed in coat and tie even at this awful time of morning, tapping his foot in a heavy rhythm, glancing first at his watch then at the clock on the wall then back to his watch. Tap, tap, tap. Glance. Tap.” —The Rising by Lynn Chandler Willis

We learn much about Detective Ellie Saunder’s supervisor from what  Ellie sees and hears. His coat and tie are his personal uniform, and that he’s impatient she’s late.

Crafted Touch

“Air-conditioning kissed her overheated skin while she let the door slam behind her.” —Mended Heart by Mary Manners

This sense of touch went well with the heated encounter she’d just had with the hero in the hot stairwell.

Senses can be metaphorical.

terka.jpgCrafted Taste

“Brody clamped his lips. Deserved or not, he would not have taken those words from any other man. He swallowed them along with the bitter taste of his pride. For Megan.” —Masquerade Marriage by Anne Greene

I can see Brody’s lips curl as if he’s bitten into a lemon.


  • Weave the five senses into the context of the surroundings and actions of the scene.
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What example of connecting readers to their surroundings through the five senses have you enjoyed?

How Important Is Story—Do Movie Ratings Shed Some Light?

“There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories.”  — Ursula K. LeGuin

file000616480266.jpgHave you wondered why in the past few years many movies have received critics’ Rotten Tomatoes ratings of less than 30%?

I’ve noticed I easily “fall asleep” during some movies, yet easily stay engaged in some films that aren’t as well done. I’ve been asking the question: Why is that?

I’ve realized my “sleep meter” is driven by the amount of story present in a film. I need story.

Here are qualities that raise the dial on my sleep meter. Keep in mind: I don’t intend to drift off. And I like movies in some of these genres that have story.

file0001340280878.jpgZoe’s ZZZzzzzz Ratings

  • Putting tights and capes on men, coloring their skin green, and having them fight evil in a few situations, isn’t enough story. ZZZzzzzz.
  • Relying on spectacular special effects is interesting for a while. Often the show starts out with an interesting premise and effects and then sags to a series of special effects. Not enough story. ZZZzzzzz
  • Filling a couple of hours with vehicle chases; mile-high exploding structures; sword, Uzi, and karate battles; empty curses; and gallons of blood seldom sport this introduction: Based on a true story. Story being the key word. ZZZzzzzz
  • Experiencing one rowdy party after another, bodily noises, and nights of ogling and scoring leaves the heart’s dial on zero. Lacks relationship story. ZZZzzzzz

I know why I drift off, but critics seem to think little of the current movies as well.  Look at the ratings below from this week’s movies in theaters. Not too unlike last month’s ratings. Note the two above 90% under Critics. One was based on a true story and the other was a family movie.



16% 67%
17% 69%
21% 83%
25% 48%
31% 54%
34% 52%
49% 63%
56% 73%
57% 62%
74% 62%
75% 90%
76% 78%
89% 89%
92% 90%
96% 91%

This week the critics considered 60% of the movies splats. The average percent of critics liking the movies in that 60% was 34%.

file3441270327326.jpgIn general, audience ratings moved with the critics. When critics’ percentages are low, audiences’ are also relatively low, and vice versa. The audiences’ percentages of liking movies will be higher than critics’ because people attend movies of the types they like. For example people who like chases, bombs, battles, and blood will go to that type of movie and usually like it better than general audiences.

I usually suspect a movie is good if at least 80% of the audience likes it. In the table, that happened only four times, and that’s from audiences tending to be heavy on viewers who like the types of these movies.

I’d like to know if in general critics’ low ratings are caused mainly by substandard:

  • acting, directing, filming, or special effects;
  • humor, romance, or suspense; or
  • stories that fail to touch people’s emotions?

Could it be:


  • Too many of today’s moviemakers direct their creativity to everything except good stories?
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Why do you think movie critics are giving so many low ratings?

2 Seldom Recognized Habits That Rob From Your Creative Work

“Compared with what we ought to be, we are but half-awake.”  —William James

file4781300045861.jpgIf we realized we had these habits we wouldn’t allow them to rob our creative work. But they’re so subtle most of us are unaware we partake in them to some degree.

You’ve determined your creative work is what you’re supposed to be doing. For me, that was seeking God’s will and following His lead over many years of growth.

Now, be careful not to let these 2 habits rob from your creative work.

1.  Do you have the habit of being true to yourself, when it’s a false self you’re being true to?

file0001638098991.jpgThe world says push the limits on morality and good taste. It challenges us to shock people into noticing us. It whispers in our ears, “Life is all about you and getting ahead.” The questions below may help detect whether the subtle whispers have drawn you away from important work waiting within your true self.

  • Do you let the  values or methods of creative friends in your field influence your work so they’ll accept you?
  • Do you want to do something noble in your work, but you think you’ll be ridiculed for being outdated?
  • Are you a plotter, but you believe most people think it’s better to be a free-spirited, seat-of-the-pants artist? Or vice versa?


  • Are you robbing excellence from your creative work by emulating the wrong people?
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2.  Do you have the habit of thinking society needs you elsewhere?

This could be misplaced duty. The good, but not the best, use of your time.

A robbing activity is NOT an obvious procrastination activity. Or one necessary to take care of family. This is an activity you’re subtly lured into performing.

  • id-100205587.jpgIt’s an activity you’re good at. You’d pick you to do it every time, even if it keeps another person from doing it and growing.
  • It’s an activity that seems so right you’ve never bothered weighing the cost of what it’s doing to your creative work.

The following questions may help. For me, they may arise while talking to God to discern if He’s nudging me to perform the activity outside my creative work.


  • Does the activity need to be performed at all?
  • Are you the best person to perform the activity?
  • Are you the only person who can perform the activity?
  • Are you an obstacle for the person meant to perform the activity?
  • Is it right to perform the activity, but you’re spending more time on it than necessary?
  • Is this activity worth relegating your creative work to hobby status?


  • Are subtle, misguided attractions reeling you into activities that rob progress on your creative work?
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What other robbers steal from your creative work?