How to Use Your Senses When Writing
Have you ever read a book that felt so real you could actually smell the meal that the character was cooking, or feel the slight, cool breeze that was blowing through the person’s hair?
When you read a book and the details are so real they’re almost palpable, these are the books that you never forget and are surely the books that you want to emulate when writing your own.
That’s why today’s blog is all about using your senses to bring your story to life when writing.
Perhaps one of the biggest obstacles for writers is to show not tell your reader what is happening in a scene. If you’re telling your audience, you’re just rambling off detail after detail with no fluidity. But, if you’re showing your audience what’s happening in a scene, you’re plucking them from reality and placing them right in the thick of your plot.
It’s the latter that you want to accomplish when writing your book. Then, you’re not just a writer anymore. Through your words, you're transforming into an artist who is painting a vivid picture in the minds of your readers. It’s not just any picture either; it’s a more visual image that uses all of the senses – sight, sound, smell, taste and touch.
Sight – Your eyes are like movie screens as you watch the world play out before you. First and foremost, as we mentioned previously, you want to show not tell your readers what’s going on. If you’re having trouble painting the picture, ask yourself, “What am I seeing?” Perhaps you’re sitting in the park and see a man walking his dog. Sure, that’s enough to say on the surface. But, when it comes to writing, you want to dive a bit deeper and explain his characteristics. Perhaps the man in focus walks with a slight limp, or he continues to switch the handle of the leash from hand to hand. Really focus your attention on details that help paint a picture beyond what’s on the surface.
Sound – Close your eyes and imagine that you’re sitting at a table in the middle of a busy coffee shop. What sounds do you hear? The hissing of the cappuccino machine? The clang of the cash register drawer opening and closing? The subtle sound that a book makes when a page is turned? Some sounds will let the reader know where the character is without actually telling them. It’s up to you, the author, to create a scene through sounds that puts your reader right where you want them.
Smell – Let’s say the main character walks into a bakery. Sure, you could say, “The aroma of fresh-baked goods filled the air.” This would help paint the picture, but that picture is stale. Rather, put yourself in the shoes of your main character as he walks through the threshold of the bakery. “The smell of warm streusel cooling on a rack filled the warm air as the scent of freshly-made bread wafted in and out.” Now, your reader really has an understanding of this scene in the bakery and begins to put themselves into the character’s shoes, envisioning and painting a picture in their mind of what this bakery looks and smells like.
Touch – To feel something allows a person to experience it on a much deeper level. Since your readers won’t be able to physically feel the objects that you’re describing, you want to provide them with a sense of engagement that helps them imagine that object in their hands. As an example, your main character is walking along the shoreline when he spots a picture-perfect seashell. He picks up the seashell and runs his fingers along its grooves, feeling a bit of resistance because of the fine grains of sand that are embedded in the crevices. Now, your reader can actually picture and envision how that seashell feels and what it looks like. Remember, when writing about touch, describing the physical aspects of the object is very important.
Taste – Writing about taste can be a fun exercise, because it’s with this sense that you intrigue your reader with details. The flavor of food is often described as an experience. The layers and depth of the flavors and textures take a person’s taste buds on a journey. As the author, it’s up to you to translate this journey into words when describing something experienced with the sense of taste. Metaphors can help describe taste – “The warm donut tasted like a cloud dusted with sugar.” Through this sentence, the reader will be able to understand that the warm donut is soft, plump and sweet. Sure, you could have just said the latter, but offering a sense of imagery evokes the flavors and texture of the description.
When writing your book, remember that unlocking and utilizing the five senses into your work can help immerse your reader into the world that’s created through your words.
Copyright Dorrance Publishing, 2016