The sound of happiness: using pleasure sensations to enrich our fictional worlds

There was a woman sitting at the roadside between two towns when a man approached. He stopped and asked the woman what the town ahead was like.

The woman asked, “What was the town you’ve just come from like?”

The man replied, “Oh, it was awful. Filthy and full of thieves and cheats.”

The woman nodded. “You’ll find the town ahead much the same.”

The man rolled his eyes and went on his way. 

A little later, another man came along the same road, coming from the same place and heading to the same place, and asked the same question. 

Again, the woman asked, “What was the town you’ve just come from like?”

This man replied, “Oh, it was a lovely place. The streets were clean and the people kind and 

The woman nodded. “You’ll find the town ahead much the same.”

I love this story, because it makes the point that life is what we make of it. That’s not to deny that some
people encounter more hardships than others – there is a big difference between the life of a middle class teacher in Surrey and a refugee from Sudan. However, you often find that the people who have suffered the most are the ones with the most positive outlook, focusing on the joys of life, small and large. Whereas people who have experienced to real difficulty to speak of, whinge endlessly about their lot.

Having a positive outlook to life is a good in itself and should need no further justification. However, it can also be good for your writing.

By noticing little things in life that make us happy, we become more observant to detail and these details are often simple and sensual, relating to the five senses. If we deliberately notice sights, smells, sounds, tastes and things we can touch that bring us pleasure, then we can draw on that memory bank when it comes to our writing to draw people into our fictional worlds.

Try this exercise:
1.       Make five lists of things that make you happy, under the headings: sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. Add at least ten things to each list. Don’t be surprised if some lists are much harder than others.

For example

  1.  The sound of birds singing in the garden
  2. The sound of keys in the door as my partner arrives home from work
  3. The sound of a breeze through the trees on a summer’s day
  4. The sound of the dog panting after a good game of chase
  5.  The sound of live piano music in an echoey old house
  6. The sound of bacon sizzling in a pan
  7. The combination of uplifting chords in my favourite song
  8. The sound of a newborn baby crying for the first time
  9. The sound of a powerful shower
  10. The hum of a powerful car engine

Add your favourite sensations in the comments below!

Credit to The Five Minute Writer by Margaret Geraghty for the inspiration for this post – if you liked it, you should buy the book.

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