Monday, December 13, 2010

Gleanings from A Christmas Carol by Ocieanna Fleiss

Hey readers, it's Manuscript Monday. Today, Ocieanna, your hostess for Wednesdays, is here to share an article on incorporating the five senses into our writing. Welcome, Ocieanna, a couple days early.

Gleanings from A Christmas Carol
by Ocieanna Fleiss

We’re all familiar with the A Christmas Carol movies, but have you ever read Charles Dickens’ short classic? When I recently sat down with it, I realized how Dickens uses the five senses to key into our emotions in a powerful way. Let’s see what we can glean by exploring his work.

Oh, I See

Of course, sight is the sense we writers utilize most. Virtually every time we portray something, we begin with what it looks like—that’s why our visual descriptions must sparkle. Ever come across a sentence like this? “Mary sat on the couch.” Blah. It cries for more. We need to see the scuffed leather, to gaze into the eyes of the moose head on the wall. Here’s how Dickens does it.

The ancient tower of a church, whose gruff old bell was always peeping slily down at Scrooge out of a gothic window in the wall, became invisible, and struck the hours and quarters in the clouds.

By his use of well-chosen adjectives and nouns—“ancient tower,” “gruff old bell,” “gothic window”—the church tower becomes real in our mind’s eye. Add the clouds, and we can almost feel it “peeping slyly” at us.
Note that Dickens doesn’t bog down his prose with the overused, “he saw, she noticed, etc.” He simply describes the church tower, and we know it’s Scrooge who sees it.

I Hear Ya

Holly sprigs and berries crackled in the lamp-heat of the windows.

Here Dickens emphasizes the “little noises” to craft a London Christmas Eve. It’s the often drowned-out sounds that strike our emotions unexpectedly, pulling us into the fabric of a story.

That Stinks!

Smell evokes memories and strong emotions like nothing else.

Alleys and archways, like so many cesspools, disgorged their offences of smell, and dirt, and life, upon the straggling streets; and the whole quarter reeked with crime, with filth, and misery.

Dickens uses smell as a secret weapon to whisk us to a London back alley. And what would transport us better than these rancid odors?

How Do You Feel?

When your protagonist sits at a table, do your readers feel its grainy oak surface? Does the vinyl chair stick to your character’s legs when she stands? Dickens masterfully chills us:

In the main street, at the corner of the court, some labourers were repairing the gas-pipes, and had lighted a great fire in a brazier, round which a party of ragged men and boys were gathered: warming their hands and winking their eyes before the blaze in rapture.

The owner of one scant young nose, gnawed by the hungry cold as bones are gnawed by dogs, stooped down at Scrooge's keyhole to regale him with a Christmas carol.

Did you feel the warmth of the fire on the “ragged men and boys” hands contrasting against the frigid night? Also, here I am in front of my cozy fireplace, enwrapped in an afghan, and yet seeing the “scant young nose” being gnawed by the “hungry cold” sent a chill through me, did you feel one too?

Not only does Dickens’ meticulous description of the cold bring us into the story, it symbolizes Scrooge’s icy heart. As the story progresses and Scrooge thaws, the settings grow warmer too.

Taste Good?

Taste is one of the most graphic senses. Dickens does it this way:

Cratchit made the gravy (ready beforehand in a little saucepan) hissing hot; Master Peter mashed the potatoes with incredible vigour; Miss Belinda sweetened up the apple-sauce. And Bob said he didn't believe there ever was such a goose cooked. Its tenderness and flavour, size and cheapness, were the themes of universal admiration. Eked out by apple-sauce and mashed potatoes.

Again Dickens shows (not tells) us a scene to arouse the senses. The warm gravy blended with the vigorously mashed potatoes oozes down our throats. And the incredible goose, along with the other perfected delicacies, tantalizes our hunger even more. The tastes in this scene also conjure the sense of love, family, and holiday cheer that makes this tale a beloved classic.

By using the five senses, Dickens allows us to travel right along with dear old Ebenezer. As we experience the story with him, our emotions are stirred—and we’re gifted with powerful tools to create our own classics.


Love Finds You in Victory Heights, Washington by Tricia Goyer and Ocieanna Fleiss

The Second World War has stolen Rosalie's fiancé from her. But rather than wallow, Rosalie throws herself into her work at the Boeing plant in Victory Heights, shooting rivets into the B-17 bombers that will destroy the enemy. A local reporter dubs her Seattle's Own Rosie the Riveter, and her story lends inspiration to women across the country. While Rosalie's strong arms can bear the weight of this new responsibility, her heart cannot handle the intense feelings that begin to surface for Kenny, the handsome reporter. Fear of a second heartbreak is a powerful opponent - but will it claim victory over love?


Ocieanna Fleiss has cowritten two novels with Tricia Goyer—both for Summerside press. The most recent, Love Finds You in Victory Heights, Washington, released July, 2010. Ocieanna has also written several articles for national publications and a bi-monthy column for Northwest Christian Writers Association. Homeschool mom of four little ones, she, along with her husband, stay busy at her home in the Seattle area.