Tacos and Multi-Sensory Writing

Recently I lost myself in the book Murder Once Removed by S.C. Perkins. I thoroughly enjoyed this cozy centered around Lucy Lancaster, a Houston-based genealogist. After she uncovers possible suspects in a 19th-century murder connected to a prominent Texas family, Lucy becomes a target herself when a present-day killer wants her research.

This book drew me in on many levels. It is well written, the characters are interestingly fleshed out, and, well, there are the tacos.

There are books that I enjoy and then there are books that are total immersions. For me, Murder Once Removed is an immersion book. Maybe it’s because I visited Texas only a few months ago or maybe it’s because I really like tacos, but whenever I flipped to my bookmark, I could feel the Houston sunshine, hear the soft whisper of pages turning in the library, or, yes, taste the amazing tacos Lucy and her friends moon over from their favorite eatery, Flaco’s Tacos.

For instance, when Lucy has a bad morning, the author takes her to Flaco’s to drown her sorrows:

     I tapped the bar. “Hit me again.”

    Shortly, a shot glass slid my way. I downed it, making a face and shuddering.

    “Ay, chiflada, Lucia. If you don’t like grapefruit juice, why are you drinking it?”

    “It’s supposed to be good for you,” I replied. “Plus, it’s my penance for being so stupid this morning.”

     “That was pretty loco of you.”

     “Thanks a lot.” I picked up the last bite of my bacon-and-egg taco and popped it into my mouth. After my fiasco with the senator, I decided to go to Flaco’s for a proper breakfast – and a few shots of bitter grapefruit juice – before I went into the office.

In this passage, there aren’t big words, but they are well chosen. I could feel the wooden bar as Lucy tapped it and the scraping sound as the shot glass slid her way. She didn’t merely eat her taco, she popped it into her mouth. The grapefruit juice was bitter, followed with the salty/smooth combination of bacon, eggs, and tortilla.

Books that have me fully engaged also remind me that in creating my own stories, I need to write with all of my senses, relying not only on the sense of sight. For instance, my book-in-progress includes an art studio located near a lake. In describing it, I can easily list the cans holding brushes, the paint-spattered floors, or the floor-to-ceiling windows that flood the room with light. But that is telling the reader only what I see, no more than if I had snapped a photo. To bring my reader into the studio, I could mention the scent of pine trees and licorice wafting from the glass jars of turpentine on the rough wooden table near the easel or the soft summer breeze from the open window caressing the tendril of hair against my cheek. Does that same breeze bring the trilling of birds in the trees surrounding the lake?

Strong, well-chosen words and phrases can bring a reader into a scene; weak words leave them outside.

All authors seek to engage their readers and transport them into the world they create. As I flesh out my latest story, I am no exception. For me, multi-sensory writing and a tight, imaginative plot are the key. What about you?

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