Writing Characters with Enhanced Senses

simplyoriginalcharacters:

Characters with extraordinary senses come up a lot. Maybe your character is of supernatural or alien origin, or maybe they were just born with a genetic quirk. Maybe they have a sensory disorder that only makes their hearing seem extraordinary. There are lots of reasons why a character might have extraordinary senses and a lot of different ways those senses might be put to use, but here are some of the drawbacks you might consider when writing a character who has a super sniffer, excellent eyesight, or high-quality hearing!

Sight:
If your character has super sight, chances are that they can see farther and more clearly than anybody else, which is pretty cool except that the human eye can still only really focus on one thing at a time…so your character might want to be careful not to get distracted when they’re, say, crossing the street. If they’re watching a burglary occur a thousand yards away, they might not notice the car that just whipped around the corner behind them. Other super-drawbacks might include heightened sensitivity to light, color, or movement – and you have to remember that nobody can see three-hundred-sixty degrees at all times, so your character is probably going to have a blind spot (unless they’re an owl). Also, they may frequently look like they’re staring off into space when they’re really just watching something very intently.

Hearing:
Have you ever been standing in a crowd of people who are all talking at the same time? Now imagine if you had super hearing! It can be hard to pick out individual pieces of information or even follow a single conversation when you can hear everyone in a six-block radius…and it’s not just conversations. You can also hear every car, every pet moving around, every jingle of a key, the air moving through the vents, and so on and so forth. This is another one of those abilities that may make it look like your character is just really easily distracted – it’s not that they don’t want to pay attention to their friends, it’s just that they’re playing “name that tune” with a radio four blocks to the southeast!

Smell:
Think about your shower routine, whatever it might be. How many scented products do you layer on your skin? Soap, shampoo, conditioner, lotion, deoderant, maybe perfume or cologne, shaving cream or aftershave – the list goes on and on. If you had a super nose, you might be able to smell every single layer a person was wearing, and that kind of assault on the nose could be eye-wateringly overwhelming. Consider your reaction to someone wearing strong perfume! There are a lot of other types of smells in the world too, from cut grass and shoe polish to rotting garbage…and a lot of bodily functions have smells too: passing gas, excrement, or urine, menstruation, or sweating, for example. Your character might even be able to smell disease. This type of character might have to wear a mask or a scarf over their face to dull their super-sense, which might give them an odd appearance, but just imagine how much weirder it would look to be standing on a street corner sniffing at the air when all anyone else can smell is car fumes.

Taste:
What’s the strongest flavor you’ve ever tasted? Maybe it was something fishy, or spicy, or sour. Everyone’s answer is bound to be different, but imagine if every single thing you ever ate or drank tasted that strong. Eventually you might get kind of tired of it and start preparing food that is more bland, right? Alternately, imagine if nothing ever just tasted like itself to you: you’re eating a french fry, but instead of tasting “french fry” you’re tasting potato, salt, oil, the metal of the fryer, the latex in the gloves used to scoop them into the paper tray, the paper tray itself…that would be pretty overwhelming! The major drawback to super taste is that your character might have trouble eating out or eating in front of other people. When you taste a lemon, your face puckers up…just think of how much more sour it would taste with a super tongue!

Touch:
Did you know that every day you suffer a million tiny hurts and your brain just ignores them so that you can keep on functioning normally? If you had an enhanced nervous system, that might not be the case. Think about the number of tiny things we ignore every day: actions like walking, scratching, accidentally biting your tongue, or blinking could hurt pretty bad if you were super sensitive to touch! People with super touch might have a hard time getting comfortable all the time, and they might have to deal with not liking the feeling of clothes, being annoyed with air moving over their skin, or being extra-sensitive to physical contact. If a hug felt to me like someone was trying to break my ribs, I’d avoid them too!

So what are some things to keep in mind when writing about characters with extraordinary senses, other than drawbacks? Here are some things to consider:

  • Set limits. Your character shouldn’t be able to see past the curve of the earth – that’s just silly! Likewise, if they can hear something happening through the entire planet, you may want to rethink. Consider things like range and clarity when you’re setting limits on super senses: how far away can they see things and how clearly can they see them, for example. When it comes to touch, this is a little more tricky, and you might want to think more about the direct effects of pressure on the character: how much pressure does it take before it hurts?
  • Enhanced senses require enhanced brainpower. I don’t mean that they raise your character’s IQ level, but consider how much effort it takes to sort through and process sensory information. If your character’s brain can’t handle it, they might be in a constant state of sensory overload.
  • Speaking of sensory overload, that might happen to your character sometimes anyway! Everyone faces extreme situations in their lives where their brains just can’t keep up with the workload, and the threshold for that point is probably lower for people with super senses. If you’ve got a character with super hearing and four people are trying to talk to them at once, they might experience sensory overload and have to go recover for a while, so do your research into sensory overload and what to do to help them.
  • Finally, their super sense is going to impact how they experience and relate to other people. Maybe your character doesn’t remember a person’s name or face but they’ll never forget her voice. Maybe they just can’t even be in the house with Great-Aunt Helen because she always wears the same musty old perfume and it gives your character a headache. Maybe your character appears to be constantly zoning out when really they’re just looking closely at peoples’ jewelry. How your character perceives others, and how others view your character, is going to be impacted by their ability – count on it.

If you’re writing about a character with super senses, I hope that this has been helpful and maybe even inspiring to you, and I’d love to hear your thoughts too! Thanks for reading, and good luck!

-Kyo

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