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IWW Practice-W Exercise Archives
Exercise: Touch

These exercises were written by IWW members and administrators to provide structured practice opportunities for its members. You are welcome to use them for practice as well. Please mention that you found them at the Internet Writers Workshop (http://www.internetwritingworkshop.org/).

Prepared by: Rhéal Nadeau
Posted on: Sun, 29 Apr 2001
Reposted on: Sun, 24 Feb 2002
Reposted on: Sun, 17 Nov 2002
Reposted on: Sun, 1 Jun 2003
Reposted on: Sun, 26 Jun 2005

This week's exercise will fall into the "involving the senses" series. A common mistake in writing is to focus on sight and hearing, and neglect the other senses, though those have an important role to play in setting the scene.

This exercise looks at the sense of touch. Think of the adjectives that relate to touch: soft, hard, satiny, coarse, prickly, hot, cold, and so on. There are dozens of words to describe texture, temperature, and softness/hardness. (In your favourite thesaurus, look up the entries for "hard", "cold", "rough", and see the wealth of words at our disposal.)

These words have their own power to evoke, so much so that they are themselves used as metaphors: calling someone "lukewarm" does not refer to body temperature, after all.

As an example, here are two extracts from Ray Bradbury's "Dandelion Wine" which makes wonderful use of sensory data, including touch:

   Crossing the lawn that morning, Douglas Spaulding broke a spider web
   with his face. A single invisible line on the air touched his brow
   and snapped without a sound.

   So, with the sublest of incidents, he knew that this day was going to
   be special.

Four pages later, this section describes Doug's moment of illumination:

   The grass whispered under his body. He put his arms down, feeling
   the sheet of fuzz on it, and, far away, below, his toes creaking in
   his shoes. The wind sighed over his shelled ears. The world slipped
   bright over the glassy round of his eyeballs like images sparked in a
   crystal sphere. Flowers were sun and fiery spots of sky strewn
   through the woodland. Birds flickered like skipped stones across the
   vast inverted pond of heaven. His breath raked over his teeth, going
   in ice, coming out fire. Insects shocked the air with electric
   clearness. Ten thousand individual hairs grew a millionth of an inch
   on his head. He heard the twin hearts beating in each ear, the third
   heart beating at this throat, the two hearts throbbing his wrists,
   the real heart pounding his chest. The million pores on his body

   I'm really alive! he though. I never knew it before, or if I did
   I don't remember.

In Bradbury's typical effusive style (note the richness of his verbs and images), he evokes sound, sight, and touch, sometimes combining more than one sense in a single phrase. For example, "The wind sighed over his shelled ears" gives us both a sound and a sensation - we can hear and feel that wind.

This week's exercise: in 300 words or less, write a scene in which touch, in combination with other senses, plays a significant role in describing the mood or the action. While writing the exercise, remember to experiment with different words for the same sensation, and see which of those best serve the scene.

Extra-curricular activity: a few times in the next few days, in different places, stop a moment and feel the objects around you - the fabric of your chair, the difference in texture between your shirt and your pants, the gloss of tableware, the brick of a wall, the ground beneath your feet. Think of the possible words you could use to describe those sensation.

Rhéal Nadeau's wrap-up
Posted on: Mon, 7 May 2001

I always find it interesting to see the variety of approaches to our exercises, and this week was no exception.

The submissions show the richness of the sense of touch: this sense gives us pain, pleasure, information about our environment. The submissions gave us weather, loss, sensuality, combined with prosaic interaction with the environment. Even with all this variety, I can't help thinking we've only scratched the surface of this topic; certainly, as I looked at the submissions, I wondered at times about what could have been added to provide even more richness. (Of course, how much detail to provide would depend on the context, the desired rhythm and pace of the text.)

Among the touch sensations in the submssions (and picking almost at random), I see examples like: "compelling itch", "throb", "tingling fingers", the heartbeat of a dying bird, a sun-warmed carpet, "bruising cement" conveying a woman's pain, the caress of a feather, and much more. Obviously, just as touch is a rich and varied sense, there are many ways to convey those sensations - and through them, to draw a picture of what else the character is experiencing (since what we perceive is filtered through what we are living at the time.)

I would like to thank and congratulate all our participants!

Rhéal Nadeau's wrap-up
Posted on: March 7, 2002

Another interesting week. As always, it was a joy to see the different approaches to the exercise.

For some reason, I was struck by the use of water in several of the submissions, and how differently water can feel: warm, cold, still, flowing, bubbling - or showing up as mist or steam or snow or ice. A simple substance, and so many sensations, so many different experiences!

We saw a lot of sensory details in the submissions this week. However, it is clear that involving the senses (and touch in particular) is not always easy. Doing it without being obvious is just as much of a challenge. Obviously, the sensory detail must serve the story in some way (or ideally, more than one way): describing the setting, of course, but also showing us something about the point-of-view character, and perhaps moving the plot along. The key, I think, is how much we, as the author, can "feel" with the character. Is the character just a cardboard cut-out to be moved through the necessary actions to advance the plot? Or is the character alive (for the author first of all, before it can be alive for the reader)?

Good work, everyone - I hope it's been a worthwhile learning opportunity!


Patricia Johnson's wrap-up
Posted on: June 9, 2003

Last week's repeat of the touch exercise gave unique perspectives on the characters and their worlds. The touch sensations in the stories covered many topics including suicide; teenage sensuality; intense summer heat; encounters with illness, accidents and nausea; an encounter with a snake; a tightrope walk; and relaxing at the beach.

Touch played a major part in developing the action and story lines. The characters were developed better when touch information appeared in many areas of the story. When other senses such as sight, hearing, and smell were added, a story would become especially successful. Touch allowed the development of mood and voice in the stories.

It may be valuable the next time we run the touch exercise to keep in mind that an overall use of touch throughout the story brings a more polished and thorough quality to the work. In addition, using all the senses allows the story more depth and interest. These are goals worth practicing toward in our writing.

Patricia L. Johnson

Patricia Johnson's wrap-up
Posted on: Sun, 3 Jul 2005

The Touch exercise presented a few challenges and some rewards this time. In general it was a successful week of submissions and critiques. As I read the submissions I wondered how different characters would convey the sense of touch in distinctive ways. In rewrites consider a detailed examination of how different characters or personality types would convey the same touch experience to reflect their own unique perspectives.

Thanks to everyone for participating. I hope that this week's practice submissions will lead to polished, publishable rewrites.

Pat Johnson

Web site created by Rhéal Nadeau and the administrators of the Internet Writing Workshop.
Modified by Gayle Surrette.