Much of this last year has been consumed with the details of settling my late brother’s estate. Among other tasks, I had the dubious joy of having to prepare not one but two tax returns: one for the time during 2015 when he was alive, the other for the rest of the year.
Thank God for the accountant I hired to sort all that out.
Now for my next trick, I’m working on the estate accounting, required by the probate court. Every penny received by the estate, every cent that was spent: they all must be accounted for.
So I’m finding I don’t have all the documentation I need. Yesterday I spent some time on the phone, calling different banks to get back statements.
And part of the process involved being put on hold. Listening to the hold music.
I started feeling sad, listening to the catchy, upbeat tune, which I vaguely remembered. It took me a minute, but I realized I recognized the melody from last year, when I spent many hours calling these banks and other institutions, listening to their hold music.
Which brought back the memories and feelings I had in the months immediately after my brother’s sudden death. The sadness. The loss. The regrets.
All because of some mediocre music.
Such is the power of a tune. Amazing how just a few notes can transport you to another place or time.
Equally amazing is the power of our senses to invoke emotion in our readers.
I imagine my heroine at the wedding of some people who belonged to a group she was forbidden to associate with. People who were considered to be savages, barbarians, and dangerous.
She’s at the wedding, and hears music of a kind she’s never heard. A wistful flute, an upbeat, lively tune plucked on a sweet-sounding stringed instrument, a compelling drum beat that makes her feel more alive than she ever had before, makes her want to get up and dance. All through music, through what she hears.
Other sense can also work powerfully. I can never smell cilantro without thinking of the markets in Russia, where fresh herbs were sold year round by gray-haired, wrinkled woman in thick coats and woolen stockings.
The odor of skunk brings back memories of childhood in western Pennsylvania, when nearly every summer night a skunk lost its life on a road somewhere and the whole neighborhood knew about it instantly.
The delicate scent of lilacs brings back images of my grandfather, who loved his garden and tended it with pride.
Using senses, then, can not only bring the reader more into the story, to feel like he or she is there. The senses, and the memories they invoke, can make characters come alive, as they share those memories with the people around them.