Thursday, April 16, 2009

Waiting for the Train

Morgan Mandel

As I join the band of commuters waiting for the commuter train to pull into the station, my senses go into full alert. I hear a roar from overhead and glance up to see a silver plane fly over the clear blue sky. An aroma of what might be donuts baking wafts from the grocery store nearby. Two commuters talk to each other. I feel the weight of my computer case on my right shoulder and my purse on my left.

As the train draws closer, the brakes hiss. I wrinkle my nose at the not-so-pleasant odor of what smells like burning rubber.

On the train, I hear the motor running, the thumping of wheels over tracks, newspapers rattling, voices in conversation. I look out the window to see cars on the expressway. Today they're moving briskly, but that's not always the case. Sometimes they crawl or even stop. I see a building which looks like a cathedral, some condos with signs on the side advertising lofts available, also signs on the expressway indicating exits and street names.

An automatic message comes on the speaker announcing the next stop will be Ogilvie Transportation Centre. I'm getting off soon.

Now it's your turn. Take a moment to be observant. Use your senses. What do notice? Or, tell us about another time when all your senses became engaged. If you've done the same thing in one of your books, please describe.
Morgan Mandel

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  1. Great observation!

    I've noticed that a lot of new writers can forget to evoke all the senses via description --scent, most particularly, with tactile sensations a close second.

    For example, mentioning how a man touches a woman and his callused fingers snag on the fine silk of her blouse, along with his subsequen apology, tell us a lot about his social status, his tentativeness, their relationship, and something of her as well (because she's wearing silk, after all.)

    Things you don't pay attention to normally because we humans are primarily visual creatures actually affect us far more than we generally realise.

  2. Sometimes when an author breaks into a story to describe details that in reality wouldn't be noticed by that character at that time is aggravating. One author who does it well, I think, is Lee Child. His character sees everything, but it works because it fits him, his personality, and it's how he stays alive.

  3. Good post, Morgan. I think we all struggle with getting the "senses" right without making it too obvious that is what we are doing. The producer I used to work with in NY kept telling me make it organic to the story, then it made sense. For instance, there is no need to describe every detail of a room when a character steps into it. Just one or two to set the scene, then something that is important to that character. An escape route if it is a burglar, something out of place if it is a cop entering a suspects house.

  4. Also, adding more senses to the description of a scene can help slow it down. Then, you can wham the character with a fast action sequence for surprise effect.

    Morgan Mandel


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