This is Your Brain on Adjectives

I love words. And while that may well take the prize for the most ‘duh’ statement I’ve ever made, it’s not just the reading of them or the writing of them that I love. It’s the words themselves. I like some of them because of the way they appear visually. Others I like because of how they lyrically roll through the ear.

Others, simply because they make me happy on a strangely base level – like the word salty. Being from Maine and growing up snorting seawater on a daily basis in the summertime, the word always makes me think of the ocean. 

Smoke is another one –  that one  gets me for a number of reasons – the slinky ‘s’ at the beginning, the satisfying, hard ‘k’ at the end, and it reminds me of campfires and old friends.

Turns out, there’s science behind that. Back in March, the New York Times posted a piece discussing studies on language and its impact on our brain. It seems that reading words associated with scents stimulate our primary olfactory cortex, while reading words relating to texture trigger our sensory cortex.

A writer not taking the time to investigate this link is akin to a doctor not taking time to understand how the nervous system works – just as the nervous system carries out the will of the brain, our words carry our will to share the story.

We have so many words at our disposal, all those adjectives to play with. And how often do writers stall out and simply use words like soft or rough ? The reader gets the idea, but not the feeling.

How much further can you take it? Can you fully engage the reader’s brain at those deeper levels? Silk is soft. So is velvet. So are puppy ears. (I throw that last one in, lest I tumble straight into a romantic love scene cliché.) What kind of soft do you mean?

Of course, like any other stimuli, it can be overdone.

You want the reader enveloped in the story, not smothered by it. Not every adjective needs to carry this kind of weight, but some of them should. It’s the difference between a splash of perfume and bathing in it – more is not always better.

Take some time to investigate. Learn about neurolinguistics. I know it’s a big word, but you’re a writer. You’re not allowed to be scared by a mere word.




6 thoughts on “This is Your Brain on Adjectives

  1. GREAT post. I’ll definitely be investigating this idea. I agree with you about the sensuality of words. I think this applies to character names, too. I love a name that rolls of the tongue and says something about the character, but it’s hard to do. Or maybe I’m just obsessing about character names.

    Thanks for stopping by Depression Cookies and trying to help me out. 😉


  2. Pingback: Lost in Translation: Spock v Hemingway - rantravewrite | rantravewrite

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