The two passages below use the ‘rule of 5’ to provide an immersive description. But what are the five things? What five things are being appealed to?
- Setting a scene
When described to someone who had never been there, Arlford often sounded colourful and exciting. But viewed up close, it was pretty much all one colour in various shades; and that colour was brown. The main streets on either side of the river were always churned up, even in the hottest summers. With horses and herds so regularly brought into town, the streets were a constant slurry of dung. It covered boots, buildings and faces alike. Brown even got into the water, judging by its brackish taste and the particular flavour of the local ale. It hung in the air and was breathed deep into lungs.
[from The Book of Orm]
- A fight scene
His face was pressed against sun-metal. His skin had burned away, and now his soft interior and eyeballs were cooking. He had slipped from Luhka Sha’s grasp by changing form, but the Lead Warrior had followed him down and pinned him where there was no chance of escape.
‘Smells good,’ Luhka Sha drooled in Ba’zel’s ear, broadcasting the thought to the avid assembly so that they could share in the moment. The smell of charred flesh spread through the chamber and saw a number of the nearest spectators unable to resist chewing on their own limbs. [from Tithe of the Saviours]
Answer: both scenes appeal to all five of the senses – sight, smell, sound, taste, touch. It’s a simple but effective trick if you want to help the reader ‘imagine’ they’re actually standing there experiencing Arlford. Referencing all five senses makes a scene vivid or ‘360-degree’.
So, I’d suggest adding the ‘rule of 5’ to the other techniques we have already looked at for providing engaging descriptions: mini-lesson no.4 ‘metaphor’ and mini-lesson no.5 ‘enactment’. Indeed, to give you a classic example of enactment when describing a town, let’s return to Arlford, shall we?
Nearly all goods being traded between the northern and southern reaches of the region had to pass through Arlford. There had always been a market there, where goods of every kind could be found. It was also a place where men of every type could be found – mercenaries to protect caravans from bandits; hawkers and hauliers; sellers of weapons; labourers; flesh-traders from more distant parts; a motley of minstrels and jugglers; conjurors and charmers; itinerants and philosophers; priests and mendicants; whoremongers and doxies; physickers and the purveyors of potions, tonics and elixirs; arrangers and well-guarded lenders; and then a good number of simple butchers, blacksmiths and ostlers. All life was to be found at this meeting place of humanity.
[from The Book of Orm]
You’ll notice that the third sentence of the passage above is a very long and colourful list. Listing is a simple device for mimicking the overload of images a new visitor to a place experiences. It’s a chaos, hubbub, and a melting point. The extended length of the sentence also demands unusual organisation and punctuation – reflecting humanity’s diversity and general disorganisation. It’s a sensory assault on the reader that ‘immerses’ them in the scene.
Write a short description of a panorama, city or battle that appeals to all five senses!
If you’d like me to look at how successful your attempt is, please do feel free to email me (Adam): adz_d2003 @ yahoo.co.uk – deleting the two spaces either side of the @ sign.
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