Using Your Five Senses for Adding Aliveness to Your Writing


By Britney Pieta

Our stories are filled with the sense of sight, and if we do it well, our readers will know exactly what we’re describing. But if your descriptions only tell where things are and what they look like, your readers are missing out. When you include all five senses (touch, sound, taste, smell, as well as sight) in your writing, your setting will truly come alive. Look at some of these examples and see how it helps you improve the vividness of your writing!
Sight is the most commonly used sense in fiction, and includes any description of what something looks like, where an object is placed, anything the character sees, any action the character observes. You don’t need to describe everything; choose the particular details that are important to the scene.
In a quiet place, a single sound takes center stage. A busy place can be a cacophony of sound. As writers, we need to close our eyes and listen for the sounds in each scene:
  • The birds sang sweetly.
  • The tinkling of broken glass.
  • She shrieked with joy.
And don’t forget onomatopoeia, in which the word is pronounced like the sound: crash, buzz, zoom. Psst! Thwap! and so on.
What would the world be like without the smell of flowers, new-mown grass, wood fires, or baking bread? Readers don’t need to smell everything possible as your characters go through the story, but a few, well-placed descriptions can make a scene real.
  • As stinky as a dirty diaper.
  • It smelled like rotten eggs.
  • It smelled clean and fresh, like Grandma’s laundry.
  • He reminded her of her grandfather, a scent of peppermint and tobacco.
  • The street smelled of gas fumes and hot tar.
Taste seems to be the forgotten sense when it comes to fiction. It doesn’t belong in every scene, but well-chosen descriptions of taste can make your reader feel as if he or she is living in your story. Also, taste is closely related to smell and the two may go hand in hand, with no relation to food.
  • The street smelled of gas fumes and hot tar, and left an oily taste on her tongue.
  • The sour taste of vomit.
  • As salty as a potato chip.
  • Thick, not-too-sweet chocolate, with a hint of orange.
  • The metallic taste of blood.
  • The bitter taste of getting her mouth washed out with soap.
Texture is another sensory description that gets forgotten. Again, when something is important to your character, make a point of including the sense of touch.
  • She caressed the cool, smooth cover of the laptop.
  • The lotion gave her baby-soft skin.
  • He was tied tightly, and the rough bark gouged his back.
  • It was as soft as rabbit’s fur.
  • The biscuit was as hard as a rock.
Don’t feel like you must use equal amounts of all five senses; sight will still take the majority of your descriptions. Sound will probably come second, especially when you count dialogue. Just remember to use snippets of the other senses when appropriate, and your scenes will have a sense of being there.

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