Write Using All Five Senses

When writing a scene, it’s important to include some or all of the five senses. Until you can perceive them, you cannot write them. What do you see when you look at a tree? Not just bark and leaves. Learn to really look at trees, listen to the leaves whispering in the wind. Or hear the sound of birds playing among the branches.
How about a sunset? Look at one and talk about it into a tape recorder. Don’t forget to include your gut reactions to what you see. Transfer those feelings to your character, because emotion is a sixth sense.
Keep the senses enclosed within the action. Skip long descriptive phrases. Never stop action to describe feelings. Rather include them within the action.
Think of the difference in sounds. A sonic boom, the purr of a kitten, the blare of a car horn. The soothing tones of a loving mother’s voice. The grating shout of an abusive parent.
Touch the bark of that tree we spoke of. Close your eyes and think what it feels like. Let your character do the same.
Think of the feel of a splintered board, a slimy fish, the cool skin of a snake, a child’s cheek. Lift your face into the wind and smell the day. Sort out the variety of aromas.
The scent of a beautiful red rose. Garbage cooking in the noonday heat. Examine your reactions. Taste and smell the air on a rainy day, a sunny one, hot, then cold. Touch your tongue to the back of your own hand. This is how the hero perceives the heroines skin.
Think of ways to describe tastes. Sweet, bitter, oily, gritty. Use all these senses to set the mood of your scene. At a funeral senses should set a mood of sadness, grief, loss. Picnic scenes should transmit gaiety, happiness. Bring out those that will best set the tone. A sunny day holds different connotations than a dreary, rainy one. Smells, tastes, sights, sounds and touch evoke certain emotions in the reader.
Those are the five senses, but I spoke of a sixth. Emotion. Without emotional reactions your characters fall flat. Your reader won’t care what happens to them.
Character development awakens the emotions just as emotions reveal character. Be sure the emotion fits the character. A woman raised in the country will react differently to situations than one raised in the city. The poor, the rich, the old, the young, all perceive in different ways. Make sure each character comes equipped with her own set of emotions suitable to her or him.
In every scene there’s action, there’s reaction. No one reacts the same to a given situation. As your heroine begins to change so do her emotional reactions.
The locale, the situation and the specific information you choose to reveal should evoke emotion. Universal emotions speak to everyone’s inner child. The pacing of your book should highlight and compliment emotions. We all experience things differently. You as the writer must see that each character remains true to their own inner self, a self you have created.
Keep senses within the action. It is much better to write: Wearily she leaned against the cool, rough bark of the gnarly oak tree. How would she tell him the truth? A burst of wind sent a whispered reply through the twisted branches.
Than it is to say: The oak tree had stood at the corner of the yard for fifty years or more. It’s gnarly old trunk and twisted branches belied its age. Wearily she leaned against it. How could she tell him the truth?
The first places the description and senses within the action. The second describes then acts.
Or: With a sharp cry he fled the open coffin where his dead father lay, pushed through rustling skirts, past sharply creased trousers, tripped over shiny black boots. The heavy scent of lilies clung thick in the air until he could scarcely breathe.
Instead of: At the front of the crowded church his father lay in the coffin surrounded by flowers, their scent hanging thick in the air. Men in stiffly creased trousers and crisp white shirts and women in their finest dresses gathered around the body. With a cry he turned and ran.
See how the first puts the senses within the action. Remember, the most beautifully written description fails if it stops the action.
Go over each scene, check for senses. Not all are necessary. Here a taste, there a tactile experience, elsewhere an aroma to jog memories. Next to internalization, the use of senses is all important.
Editors say that characterization is everything. Without senses our characters are made of cardboard. No use in overdoing it, but don’t leave out the sight, touch, taste, smell and sound of the world around your characters. And make each true to the tone you wish to set.
Opposites are okay if you make good use of them: The cloying aroma of roses sickened her. How could there be such sweetness in a world gone dark with despair?
But usually a rotten stench surrounds despair. A cooling breeze caresses a glad heart.
Sunlight and birdsong, the smell of bacon frying, herald a wonderful day.
A good writer leaves her reader gratified in every sense of the word.

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About veldabrotherton

I'm primarily a writer, but I also speak and teach workshops and co-chair a large critique group. My brand is SexyDarkGritty and that applies to my western historical romances, mysteries, women's fiction and horror novels. After almost 30 years in this business, I still have something to learn and attend conferences to network with other writers, publishers, editors and agents.
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One Response to Write Using All Five Senses

  1. zhadi says:

    I’m reading Aprhodite, A Memoir of the Senses by Isabel Allende, and would recommend it highly as an excellent example of what this post is all about.Another good one, Velda!

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