Imagine a fresh batch of chocolate chip cookies just pulled from the oven. Is it the sight that makes you drool, the buttery sweet smell, or the anticipation of the warm chocolate gooiness spreading over your tongue with the first bite? The correct answer is all of the above.
God gave us five senses (doesn’t that spa look like an awesome get away after a day of writing?) that work in harmony. If you really want to connect with your reader, you’ll do the same. In each scene, your goal should be to incorporate as many senses as possible.
Let’s say you’ve got your character sitting out in a field. What might you describe?
Basswood blooms wafting on the breeze are a sweet fragrance. In fact, there are a lot of great aromas floating about in a field. But if you really want to poke your reader and leave a mark, don’t forget unexpected odors. Descriptions that twang a reader’s senses are what they’ll remember. In the case of smell, what about a surprising gust of vinegary sauerkraut? Who’d expect that? It could even play into your plot, throwing in a sideways twist.
Birdsong. Bugs buzzing. A breeze shushing through the leaves. Those are all common sounds, but there are other, more obnoxious noises that are every bit as common. What about airplanes drowning out a conversation or construction workers banging away in the background? Even idyllic places have jarring sounds, and these make your story more realistic.
This is the number one sense that most writers nail without effort. The trick here is to weave in a little genuine humanity. In the case of the field, you can certainly wax verbose about wildflowers and rolling hills, but to really make it memorable what about the discarded water bottle out in the middle of nowhere? We’ve all seen it. Or maybe a WalMart bag peeking out from the bottom of a shrub. Not pretty, but definitely real.
The sun heats your skin, and a gentle breeze tempers that warmth, but don’t forget about the prickly thistles that stick to your pant legs, then latch onto your fingers like unrelenting Velcro when you try to pick them off. Touch isn’t just about pleasant feelings. Remember to connect with the uncomfortable aspects of life.
This is most often seen as, “She ate a strawberry” or “He slugged back his coffee.” Nice action, but that doesn’t tell the reader a thing about how those items taste. Describe the flavor. Is it so sweet her teeth hurt? Sour enough that he wants to rip out his tongue and wipe it on his sweater? Taste can also be compared to a happy or sad memory. Puckerlicious lemonade always makes me think of my grandma’s front porch. Or have your character absolutely hate a food that most people love, making them more notable. After all, doesn’t every writer want their characters to remain in a reader’s mind long after they’ve closed the book?
This week challenge yourself to incorporate all five senses into your writing. It’s an easy investment that will pay off by connecting with your readers at an intimate level.
19 Replies to “Sense Is Worth More Than You Think”
Michelle,you practice what you preach, I see. I’m sharing this.
Thanks Janalyn…share away!
Good suggestions! Thanks!
You’re welcome. And if you incorporate these into your writing, you deserve a chocolate chip cookie break!
We’re thinking alike this week. On Tuesday I have a post going up called Novel Scents at jilliankent.com Must remember the importance of the five senses in our writing. It makes such a difference. That chocolate chip cookie is calling to me. 🙂
I’ll pop over there and ‘see’ what you’ve got to say about the senses, Jillian.
Michelle, incorporating the five senses into writing pulls the reader into a story faster than anything. Sense memory is powerful. Great post!
Ahh…but the eternal question is: Is sense more powerful than the taste of a chocolate chip cookie???
Sound and feeling are probably the hardest two for me. And I know it’s because I’m so focused on the goal of the scene, moving the storyline farther, that I forget my reader isn’t seeing what I’m imagining. I’m slowing down, though, trying to do this better. Thanks for the reminder and suggestions!
Believe it or not, taste is hardest for me. Go figure. I LOVE to eat!
Great article, Michelle, and I KNOW you include these. I ask know when I’ve done a good job, because you say you gained weight with the reading. LOL
I have finally learned to read your stuff with a full tummy. Too dangerous for my waistline otherwise!
I hear voices too. So I write what I hear. Then I have to go back and visualize the characters facial expressions and what they are doing with their hands. What I find a challenge is to use all five and six of the senses in a balanced way. Great article. Thanks.
Good point, Sharon. Balance is king.
Great post! I love the reminder to include both pleasant and unpleasant experiences – both can be memorable.
Great post! I am printing this out and taping it by my computer. I love using as many senses as I can in my writing. Likewise, I enjoy most the stories that drip with sensory details, Thanks for sharing this. And I am still chuckling about, “Sour enough that he wants to rip out his tongue and wipe it on his sweater?” Too funny.
Yeah, I’m not a fan of sour, can you tell?
Glad you enjoyed the post!
Comments are closed.