Laura Howard: Writing With the All the Senses


Writing With the All the Senses

As writers, we're told how important sensory details are. 

Price McNaughton is here to show just how important those details really are!

Which of the two do you prefer?

  1. She singed her fingertips as she popped the crisp, brown crust into her mouth, the heavenly taste overwhelming her senses as the heavy odor of the crumbling bread filled the air.

  1. She ate the bread.

The goal of a writer is to paint a picture in the reader’s mind. Describing the experiences of the characters helps make this happen. We, as people, experience life through our senses. The importance of using senses in writing cannot be overlooked. It makes the story come to life.

  • SIGHT is the most used sense when writing. We build ideas based on what we see. The images that we translate into the written word are easy to picture and therefore easy to write.

  1. She stared in the mirror at her hazel eyes and brown hair.

  2. She contemplated her reflection, the small wrinkles at the corners of her hazel eyes, the dimple in her right cheek, and the soft curls of mahogany hair that framed her oval face.

Words build the image in the readers mind. Be descriptive.

  • SMELL can be used in writing in many ways, but one of my personal favorites is for evoking character’s memories.

  1. The smell of the perfume reminded her of her mother.

  2. The light, flowery scent of roses and gardenias filled the small room, bringing tears to hers eyes as she turned towards the door, half expecting to see mother to come sweeping in as she had so often done in the past.

While the first description is adequate, the second helps to establish an actual scent in the reader’s mind and brings memories to the surface. I can almost smell it as I write this.
As good as smell is for adding to descriptions of beauty, it’s just as good at describing disgust. While image can be striking, sometimes nothing is more repulsive to the senses then a pungent smell of decay, rot, and death. It can be quite overpowering and overwhelming.

  • TOUCH is perfect for adding to your world.

  1. The blanket felt soft.

  2. The soft, downy cloth of the blanket covered her cold body with warmth and she sank into a dark, deep sleep gratefully.  
In the first description, it is hard to build the image the author created in your mind. With the second, the blanket becomes a bit clearer and performed a task by warming her.
Touch is a sense that is greatly underrated. How many times have you seen buyers reach out to touch an article of clothing or another item before buying it? It’s also astounding how much the touch of another human being or pet can relieve stress and anxiety. It’s not a coincidence in my mind that in times of great sorrow, people immediately surround the mourners with hugs, pats on the arm and more.

  • HEARING can be fun to work with when writing.

  1. He heard the door open.

  2. A creaking noise filled the room as the old, wooden door screeched open slowly, struggling against the barriers of time and neglect.
So much of what is written depends on what we hear. The sounds of life translate well to the page because most are easily recognizable by readers. Noises can also be used in a very misleading way, much like in life, to create fear and horror. Sounds create mystery to readers.

  • TASTE is last but not least.

  1. The pie was good.

  2. The crumbling crust of the sweet, spicy peach pie was covered with whipped cream and tasted delicious.

Have you ever read a book that left you starving at the end? I have and it’s torture! Taste translates well to an emotional scene. When someone is upset, their tea may be slightly bitter. When someone is happy, their tea may be fruity. When in love, their tea may be hot and sweet. This doesn’t mean that food must always match emotion, but I find that when someone is experiencing an emotional state, they tend to pick out those emotions and feelings in the things that surround them. They notice the bitterness more when they are sad. In short, they experience what they feel.

I believe that sensory details in writing are what form the story. Similar lives, story lines, and plot twists are suddenly dissimilar thanks to the author’s view of the world. It is what makes a writer’s work original and every work unique. It is the only way authors can truly translate the stories in their minds to paper.

How important are sensory details to you in your reading/writing? Create a sentence of your own from one of the number one examples above.


1 comment:

  1. I couldn't agree more! I have colored index cards, with words such as "taste" "hear" "smell" "see" "feel/texture" "Feel/emotions" etc. posted on a bulletin board over my desk. These are just my reminders that even though I know what is going on, my readers can't read my mind! ;o)

    My sentence: She took a sip of whiskey.

    Slowly, she sipped at the tumbler of 12 year old Glenlivit. The warm liquid with its undertones of peat, left a trail of heat trickling down her throat, warming her stomach.

    Great post! Keep up the good work!


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