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Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Use of the Senses in Hearts in Darkness by Laura Kaye

I'm welcoming Laura Kaye back once again, to tell us about the unusual technique she used to allow her hero and heroine in Hearts in Darkness to get to know each other while trapped in a pitch black elevator--a feast for the senses other than sight!


The Use of the Senses in Hearts in Darkness by Laura Kaye

Thanks to Marsha for having me and Hearts in Darkness here again! Today I’d like to talk a little about what went into writing this book. Something unique about Hearts in Darkness is a long section of the book occurs in the pitch-black darkness. This presented a special challenge in writing, because it removed arguably the most important of the senses, from a writing perspective, anyway—sight.

Writers always try to emphasize the five senses in their writing, as it’s one of the best paths to showing rather than telling.  Removing the most descriptive of those senses made smell, sound, taste, and touch significantly more important.


In Hearts in Darkness, smell becomes central to establishing their attraction for one another.  Without the ability to evaluate one another’s appearances, their bodies used more primal ways of assessing attractiveness.  For example, hero Caden’s first brief glimpse of Makenna, right before the power fails, included this:

Red reached in front of him to press a button. Caden almost laughed when she punched it at least five times. But the laughter died in his throat when he caught the scent of her shampoo. One of the things he loved about women: their hair always smelled like flowers. And that scent, combined with the redness and the softness and the waviness…Caden shoved his hands in his jeans pockets to keep from running his fingers through the thick mass of her hair. But, Christ, how he wanted to, just once.

With his claustrophobia, Caden’s identification of her scent becomes a lifeline for him when the darkness falls.  Working his way out of a panic attack, he thinks:

Caden had a hard time breathing. The only thing that kept him from losing his shit entirely was the calming scent of Makenna’s hair and neck.

Her scent becomes such a fundamental part of how he relates to her that he later says:

He leaned his head back into the crook of her neck and breathed deeply. Without having seen more of Makenna than her gorgeous red hair and her tight little backside, Caden was sure he’d be able to pick her out of a crowd by her luscious scent alone.

And Caden’s not the only one affected by the sense of smell.  Heroine Makenna hadn’t had a chance to see Caden at all before the lights died.  Here’s her first impression in the darkness:

She wished she knew what Good Sam looked like. His aftershave was clean scented. She bit back a laugh as the thought of running her nose up his throat dashed through her head.

Later, when they’ve gotten to, ahem, know each other a bit better:

Pleased she could finally do what she’d wanted, she turned her face towards him and swam in the tantalizing scents of crisp, clean aftershave and man.

In Hearts in Darkness, sound was vitally important to both characters in analyzing what the other had said.  Without facial expressions, both focus on verbal cues, hesitations, and tone of voice to try to get to know the other better.  Sound is also important for establishing reaction and attraction.  Finally, sound is useful for establishing physical actions and position that can’t be seen, but can be interpreted by what they’re hearing.

An example of the role of sound in establishing their relationship occurs here:

Caden didn’t respond, and Makenna was almost certain she’d put him to sleep. Then he said, quietly, “I really like the sound of your voice.”
Makenna’s flush ran down into the neck of her silk blouse. Saying she was pretty hadn’t gotten to her, but his saying he liked her voice set butterflies loose in her stomach.
“Me, too. I mean, your voice. I like it, too. Your voice, that is.” Makenna bit her lip to cut off the spectacular stream of nonsense coming out of her mouth, then pretended to thunk herself in the forehead. In that moment, she was glad for the darkness.

And sound’s contribution to the growing sexual tension between them occurs early:

“And what do you do, Mr. Grayson?”
He swallowed thickly at the sound of her saying his name that way. It…did things to him.

There are lots of examples of the way sound helps establish physical movement and proximity.  For example, this excerpt occurs during an early awkward moment between them, and also shows how his ability to hear—as well as smell—her grounds Caden against his anxiety.

    He heard her over there fidgeting and sighing and shifting. He started concentrating on the sound of her legs shaking against the short-knapped carpet of the elevator floor, and the distraction helped him slow his breathing. The deep breath he finally pulled into his lungs relieved and surprised him.

Since readers couldn’t see what was happening in the elevator, I had to find constant ways to make them feel it. So describing temperatures, textures, and other tactile sensations was key.

For example, it’s September in Washington, D.C. when this happens, and the air-conditioned air only holds out so long before heating up:

            A comfortable silence enveloped them. But now, without the conversation to distract her, Makenna was hot. It might’ve been the end of September, but the daytime temperature still felt like the middle of the summer. The lack of air conditioning was starting to make a difference inside the old elevator and her silk blouse clung uncomfortably.

Touch also becomes a central way they get to know each other.  Here’s the first time Makenna touches Caden, an initially innocent move that stemmed from playing Twenty Questions:

            Makenna’s pulse raced as she smoothed her hand over Caden’s head. His hair was shaved so close it felt soft and ticklish as she rubbed her fingers over it. Long after it was necessary, Makenna continued to stroke his hair. She didn’t want to stop touching him. And when he scooted his body a little closer so she didn’t have to extend her arm so far, she smiled, thinking he liked it, too.

Caden’s first touch of her was a little less innocent *winks*:

He pushed himself across the carpet until his chest encountered her side. He slowly lowered his head so he didn’t hurt her in his blind impatience. His mouth found a cheek first and he pressed his lips against the soft apple of it. She moaned and wrapped her arms around his broad shoulders. His right hand landed in a pile of silky curls, and the satisfaction he felt at finally touching her hair made him swallow hard.

Touch is also really great for discovering new things about one another, especially Makenna’s discovery of Caden’s scars and piercings, particularly tactile objects:

That was when she felt it. The fingers on her left hand clearly traced what could only be a scar on the side of his head. She hesitated for less than a second, but he sensed it and pulled back just a little.
“I’ll tell you all about it,” he whispered against her neck, “I promise.”


She worked her lips and tongue down his temple and he braced himself for her reaction to what she’d find at the edge of his eyebrow. Finally, he felt her tongue, right there. She gasped. “Oh God, more?” she whispered.
Caden had no idea whether her reaction was positive or negative until he heard her moan as she lightly sucked the barbell piercing into her mouth.


Often, the uses of multiple senses best developed a scene:

The darkness intensified every sensation. The sounds of their pleasure were amplified. Textures sprang out against his fingertips. He was swimming in her scent. He couldn’t wait to see her, but as he sat holding this sensual woman in his arms, he wasn’t complaining he couldn’t.

So...I hope you enjoyed this little behind-the-scenes peek at Hearts in Darkness! If you’ve read the book, how did the use of senses contribute to your reading experience of the book? If not, how do you most enjoy senses being used in a story? If you’re a writer, how do you make use of the senses?  Is there one you most prefer/use? Feel free to give us a few sentences from your own work to illustrate!

Thanks for reading!  And thanks again to Marsha for hosting me!
Laura Kaye

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Laura Kaye said...

Thanks for hosting me again, Marsha!

Christi Barth said...

This is a terrific post. You manage to make something quite difficult craft-wise look easy!

Laura Kaye said...

Aw, thanks Christi! That's a great compliment! I'm glad you stopped by!

kerribookwriter said...

Absolutely fantastic post, Laura!

I'm a big fan of using the sense of smells. I refer to my own nose as the 'super sniffer' around here. Drive my family crazy saying 'what is that smell?' LOL

Good stuff!


Laura Kaye said...

LOL Super sniffer! Thanks so much for coming by and commenting, Kerri!

Calisa Rhose said...

Hi Laura. I haven't read Hearts in Darkness yet, but now I want to! I like feel. In my writing I try to pull all I can from a single touch, innocent or not.

Laura Kaye said...

I like that, Calisa! I hope you give HEARTS a try! :)

Julianne said...

This sounds terrific, Laura. What a challenge; looks like you pulled it of. I just bought the book and look forward to reading it!

Laura Kaye said...

Yay, Julianne! Thank you so much!

Shelley Munro said...

Wonderful post, Laura. I especially like the examples you've given us.

Camille said...

I think I may have turned into a gusher on twitter about this book so I'll hold back a bit and say it's fabulous and I read it at night (with a lamp of course lol though now that I think about it this probably would be a great book to experience in the dark as an audio book!).


Laura Kaye said...

Hi Shelley--glad you liked the examples--it was fun picking and choosing!

Hi Camille--do I follow you on twitter??? Please give me your twitter name so I can! So glad you enjoyed this book!!!

Thanks everyone!

Marsha A. Moore said...

This would be tremendous as an audio book to experience in the dark! I'm big on using lots of sensory connections in my writing. I really enjoyed your post, Laura. Thanks lots for being my guest.

Magda Alexander said...

Wonderful post, Laura! One could develop a workshop on How to Use Senses in Fiction from your novella alone.

Laura Kaye said...

Aw, Marsha--that's so cool of you to say! And I was glad to be here!

Magda--That's an awesome compliment!

Thanks to everyone for coming over, reading, and commenting!

Camille said...

LOL I'm not sure, it's @Envyious ;) I won your other competition just yesterday :P

Laura Kaye said...

I checked - I follow you!!!