I have an old, rough, gray woolen blanket that means the world to me. The blanket has been in my family for three generations and can be traced back to a very sad time in my grandfather’s life, during WWII. The wool is harsh. Merciless. As I hold it against my face and feel the roughness, I also feel the history and the love of family.
Most of us have the privilege of feeling. We have the sense of touch as one of our five senses (or six, perhaps, depending on your point of view). I’ve been watching a TV show recently in which a main character is not able to feel. He has a condition called congenital analgesia. Mostly the show focuses on the fact that he can’t feel pain, a clearly dangerous condition. But it also touches on the fact that he can’t feel good things either — the gentle caress of a warm raindrop, the rough edges of a woolen blanket, the warmth and softness of a kiss.
In my writing I focus, like all other writers, on developing three dimensional characters, on creating a setting that is real and vivid to my readers, and crafting a plot that keeps the reader trying to figure out whodunnit. In the process, I make sure that I catch all the senses: the dryness of an over-cooked steak in a cheap diner, the vibrations of a low bass that you feel as much as hear, the scent of a peat fire burning in the grate.
But I realized that the writers I enjoy the most focus even more on feeling; they allow readers to experience a touch from the character’s point of view. The blanket isn’t just rough, it rubs that sore spot that hasn’t quite healed. The rain isn’t just cold, it seeps deep into the bones and creates an ache in the ankle the character twisted when he was a teenager.
Just as a scent is a sure way to bring back a memory, so, too, is a touch. They’re so closely connected. By feeling something the way the character feels it, the reader is provided a glimpse deep into a character’s mind.
My challenge as a writer is to make sure that my readers experience a feeling — a physical feeling, not an emotional feeling — the way my characters do.