Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, so I thought I would appeal to your love of writing and chocolate. There is nothing better than a playful language activity to breathe life into your writing. If you’ll feel too silly, you can always try this with your children or grandchildren. I formerly used this activity in the classroom as a way to foster better description. No matter the type of writing you produce on a regular basis, taking time to make it fun is worthwhile. Enjoy!
It’s common to forget one or two of our senses when writing about an object or experience. Strong writing uses significant details to paint a picture in the reader’s mind. Detailed images can then move past physical description to the larger issues associated with the writer’s observations. The following exercise will help further develop the ability to achieve a balance between concrete and abstract details in writing.
- Before you eat your Kiss, take a minute to examine its appearance. Now consider the five senses that humans possess.
- Pick your Kiss up, unwrap it, and then eat it. All the while keeping the five senses in mind.
- Using as many sensory details as possible, freewrite a description of your Kiss. Try to keep your pen moving.
If done in a school setting, it’s worthwhile to remind students to keep their descriptions school appropriate. Otherwise, some will undoubtedly come up with stuff that will make people blush. Though if you play this with a group of adults, it could be fun to tip the scales the other way.
- If working in groups, share your descriptions by reading them aloud. Briefly discuss the many adjectives everyone used, poetic comparisons, or associations made. If time allows, pick one to share.
Not all written language is as concrete as the sense descriptions just recorded about the Kiss. Writers often use concrete detail convey a more metaphorical meaning. For example, Scott Russell Sanders writes:
Much of the pleasure in writing an essay—and, when the writing is any good, the pleasure in reading it—comes from this dodging and leaping, this movement of the mind. It must not be idle movement, however, if the essay is to hold up; it must be driven by deep concerns. The surface of a river is alive with lights and reflections, the breaking of foam over rocks, but beneath that dazzle it is going somewhere. We should expect as much from an essay: The shimmer and play of the mind on the surface and in the depths a strong current.
What else comes to mind if you were to describe the Kiss in more abstract terms?
- Now consider the following questions as you freewrite: What does it represent or symbolize? What is associated with it? What does chocolate mean to you? What do Kisses or chocolate in general mean to American culture? To other cultures?
As you can see, a Kiss can be more than just a Kiss. Writing often involves examining all of the concrete details we can immediately sense followed by consideration of the abstractions that those details imply. Also, for every abstract idea, details (facts, quotes, analogies, examples) exist at the other end of the ladder. No matter your writing field, the ability to balance concrete and abstract details just makes good sense.
When is the last time you simply took the time to have a bit of fun with language? What concrete and abstract details do you associate with chocolate?
Image Credit: Hershey Kiss by John Siebert
Article by Jeri Walker-Bickett aka JeriWB
Man anything that can be learned with chocolate SHOULD be learned with chocolate
Wren, candy does have a magical way of making any task easier to swallow 😉
I agree. Everything is better when chocolate is involved. 🙂
Cheryl, come to think of it, this exercise would be fun to do with all kinds of food. Too often, we don’t take the time to really think about how something tastes and all the implications wrapped up in the act and routines of eating.
And, anything with chocolate is always better.
Candy, better with chocolate indeed, though in my case, I would be more tempted by a bag of Tostitos.
Well done! I bet you got some great essays with this exercise in the classroom! You are so right that writers often forget to employ all of the senses when writing some scenes. This is a great way to bring that back into focus
Jacquie, like most writers, I tend to dwell in the visual, but layering of sensory detail can add so much depth to a piece and really make it come alive, Plus, the ability to make connections between seemingly unrelated objects and ideas will breathe life into writing as well. Just think how many meanings we’ve given chocolate over the years in its associations with love.
I doubt that there will be any candy this year just for the fact that husband is diabetic and doesn’t need the temptation. I do, however, have a cute little knick-knack that sits here on my desk that looks like a heart winking. It would make a pretty good writing prompt.
Glynis, I do like the idea of a non-food item to inspire descriptive writing as well. In the next couple of months, I do have an exercise that involves writing about rocks that I plan to post.
Chocolate always helps with writing. 🙂 I’ll have to find the time to try this out this week. Maybe I can find a chocolate kiss in the house (they don’t sell them in Germany), otherwise, I might try it with a different packaging and Lindt candy. Tee Hee. I said packaging.
Denise, this exercise would work just fine with Lindt chocolates as well. The last time I used Lindt candies in the classroom, a few boys in class used the wrappers to make a pair of shorts for a stuffed moose I kept on my bookshelf. Thanks for conjuring a good memory. The sensory details associated with the wrapper are interesting to write about as well.
I never really thought about approaching writing like this Jeri. I just write from a memory that is full of my emotions and the details that surrounded the event. This is a great ways to go about writing some of my stories in a much different way. 🙂
Susan, taking the time to focus on sensory details adds even more for the reader to sink their teeth into, so to speak 😉
As a food lover and as a writer I can see the benefit for both from an exercise like this. It is always a good idea to examine or thoughts and ideas of food. Of course the closer look gives more meaning to what we write as well.
Jon, going overboard on exercises like this goes a long way to help free the mind to be more lucid in the connections it makes. That’s probably why so many people think writers are weird because we make it our job to look so closely at things.
I agree and you are weird. Might be why we get along…
That’s a fun exercise. On an only slightly related note, if you live in a state with cold winters, don’t just leave chocolate you bought that morning in the car to take to an event that evening. It’s all frozen by the time you arrive at the event. 🙁
RJ, or the flipside would be toting chocolate around when its too hot. Food activities when done in groups can indeed get messy, but in a good way.
I love the way you’ve explored the sensuality of chocolate in your post, Jeri. That is what I try and teach people when we’re talking about fine chocolate: to incorporate the fine senses into the experience. First you see it. That’s why appearance is importance. Then you should be able to smell it. Fine artisanal chocolate does have a much more intense smell (aroma) than chocolate candy. Then you should feel the texture of the chocolate. Is it smooth, or does it contains nuts or berries to make it bumpy. It it’s a chocolate bar, snap it and listen to the crisp clean snap that you will find with well-made chocolate. And finally … the taste! It should be well worth the wait. Enjoy!
Doreen, it would be really fun to do this exercise with you 😉
Good exercise Jeri. it’s amazing how much we can see and taste and smell and associate if we put our minds to it. Being mindful goes a long way in writing.
A.K., there’s also an activity I like to do on writing about favorite places that requires the writer to make observations in five columns: one for each sense. The visual column always fills up to quickly, but touch/texture is usually the most difficult for people to fill all the way up.
My mouth is watering as I imagine unwrapping that ‘lil bit of passion. Anything chocolate makes life worth living.
Jagoda, indeed. Chocolate makes anything and everything better 🙂
Enjoying chocolate with five senses and using it to develop language skills…That is just a great idea.
Bindu, I actually first encountered this exercise in a linguistic class on methods for teaching English to language learners. An immersive approach to language and writing can really make the power of words come alive for some people.
This is brilliant, Jeri! You said to try it with children and grandchildren. Heck I’m using it to help improve my own descriptive writing skills! Great suggestions and I have them typed out. “It’s common to forget one or two of our senses when writing about an object or experience” lit up like a bright light in my head. Thank you 🙂
Mike, these types of exercises have made me a much better writer. It’s fun to go back through them and remind myself how much work always needs to be done to make writing truly come alive on the page.
I did a very small amount of creative writing when I was a kid and it was all because one teacher encouraged me to do it. I don’t do much now, but I always think it’d be fun to do again someday.
Dan, I can totally tell you would be great at creative writing. Just think how much inspiration you have to draw upon with all of the travel and work experiences you’ve had.
Very creative brain exercise! And perfect timing for V-Day. Love me some chocolate AND writing. 🙂
Beth, I’m sending a virtual chocolate kiss your way this very instant…
I just scarfed down a bag of peanut M&M’s that we have only because we had to use up some Singapore dollars in the airport last week. I know it was empty calories because I realize that I have nothing to say about the experience—that is, it wasn’t a sensory experience at all. It was totally mindless and unsatisfying. Next time I’ll find some real chocolate and be mindful enough while I eat it to write about it.
Suzanne, I think we all have those times when we realize how we don’t savor the moment.
Great exercise, Jeri. Using all your senses to describe an experience is essential for all writers. Am at the moment reading J.K. Rowlings book The Casual Vacancy. She really makes me feel what it’s like to be the son of a brutal father, the daughter of a social misfit and all kinds of other charachters in the book that are very different from me.
Catarina, I’ve heard such good things about her book. I’ll probably never give Harry Potter a try, so I may as well tackle her other work since everyone has such positive things to say.
Have you ever thought about teaching an online writing class? You’d be fantastic at it!!
Laura, I wouldn’t know where to start! Maybe someday I can make a course that would focus having fun with language while also getting at important ways to improve how the writer uses it.
Nothing kills writing creativity like a brain fogged over with a cold virus. I can’t get my systems in gear but I sure love what you’ve written here. Paying attention to the senses really does make for good writing. I must not be sick because chocolate doesn’t even sound good.
And yes, online writing classes, think about it. You’re good.
Grace, so sorry to hear you aren’t feeling well. Teaching online writing classes is only a distant possibility at this point, but something I may someday look into.
All about this writing strategy Jeri. Get’s the juices flowing. I too prefer some salty treats like Tostitos though, but once a month, it’s sweets time baby.
How’s your blogging going in general? You had some ambitious goals for the year if I remember correctly.
Greg, I can only imagine how this exercise would go over with various types of food 😉 Most of my blogging goals are going okay, but I was a bit in ambitious in thinking I could double my subscribers in a year.
Just imagining what reflections I would see in that sparkling tear drop, what I would hear as the foil opened…and the smell. I want a kiss and I haven’t even thought about the touch and taste. 🙂 What an excellent exercise.
Debra, maybe you will get a box of chocolates’s for Valentine’ Day. If so, enjoy every drop of that chocolate by using your five senses.
This is a great and chocolate is involved! I really like your writing exercises.
Niekka, make sure to let me know if you give this one a try.
This is actually also a really useful tool for teaching mindfulness around eating. Many times we eat our food far too fast and don’t really appreciate it, but stopping and thinking about food before eating it, especially treats, can help people to limit the amount that they eat and really savour it more. I know this angle wasn’t the purpose of your post Jeri, but it’s always good to see how an activity or skill can apply to other areas of life too 🙂
Boy, chocolate makes learning fun and writing even more fun.
Krystle, this would be a great one to try with your kids.
This sounds like a super fun writing exercise! When I’m eating chocolate later I’m going to try it 🙂
That is a great exercise. Thanks so much for sharing Jeri. Also thanks a lot for coming over at my blog and leaving a comment. In my writing, I have a lot of problem with the show don’t tell notion. I’m pretty sure this exercise can help by using the five senses to describe what’s happening.
Rita, showing vs. telling is a constant battle for most writers. It’s a fine line to walk, but consciously reminding yourself to incorporate sensory details will get you far.
Now this is definitely an exercise worth trying!
Chocolate! One of my favorite subjects. 🙂 Thanks for sharing your post!
Jen, thanks for stopping by.
Every time I see Hershey’s kisses – I will be reminded of your article and will have to take my time to enjoy the chocolate.
Mini, thanks for stopping by. As a food writer, I’m sure you can really relate to taking time to savor flavors and whatnot.
I love this exercise! I have a similar one I do using photos but I love the idea of using food 🙂 Then you don’t have to imagine what you’re smelling.
Anne, the topics and objects this exercise can be used for are quite endless. It would be a blast to do this exercise on a food and wine tasting.