Monday, March 26, 2012

The Science of Powerful Prose... Revisited

In this previous post, I took a stab at identifying why certain combinations of words seem to explode off the page, while others just sit there, inert and ineffective.

It turns out that much brighter minds than mine are busy delving into the mystery:
"Researchers have long known that the “classical” language regions, like Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area, are involved in how the brain interprets written words. What scientists have come to realize in the last few years is that narratives activate many other parts of our brains as well, suggesting why the experience of reading can feel so alive. Words like “lavender,” “cinnamon” and “soap,” for example, elicit a response not only from the language-processing areas of our brains, but also those devoted to dealing with smells."
"Last month, however, a team of researchers from Emory University reported in Brain & Language that when subjects in their laboratory read a metaphor involving texture, the sensory cortex, responsible for perceiving texture through touch, became active. Metaphors like “The singer had a velvet voice” and “He had leathery hands” roused the sensory cortex, while phrases matched for meaning, like “The singer had a pleasing voice” and “He had strong hands,” did not." 
Very interesting. Go here for the complete article.

So, one way to improve your writing is to fill your metaphors with all the texture and spice of a good, hearty salsa. Who knew?

(You see what we did there, folks? Is your sensory cortex buzzing?)


  1. As a waiter reciting the nightly specials I'll engage all your cortices and tastebuds.