Using Your Senses in Writing

“Describe a moment in time. Make me feel like I am there.” This was an English assignment I had in college.

How do you do that? In a sense, we do it when we are “showing” in our writing verses “telling” the reader what to see. The key words in that English assignment was “Make me feel like I am there.”

In order to make the reader feel what our characters are experiencing, we have to make them become the character they are reading about. We can do this by using our 5 senses in our writing.

Sight

Pretend you are a camera following this person around. What does your character see? Do they see a “scary figure” or do they see “a seven-foot man holding a sharp object in his clenched fist”? Show your reader what your character sees.

Some sensory words for sight include:

Appearance:

  • Blinding
  • Tall
  • Hypnotizing

Colors:

  • Red
  • Aqua
  • Purple

Shapes:

  • Round
  • Octagon
  • Rectanlge

Hear

Sight shouldn’t be the only sense we adhere to. Hearing plays an important part in what the character percieves is going on. They might hear a “loud noise” or they might hear “a thunderous BOOM. When we tell that the character heard a noise, we don’t get what they are feeling. However, if there is a thunderous BOOM, we understand that there is a more threatening situation.

Some sensory words for hearing:

  • Boom
  • Screeching
  • Thump
  • Roaring

Smell

I used an example in A Star in the Night of showing what my character experienced. Instead of saying, David liked the smell of the bakery, I wrote, “Sweet smells of sugary cakes and icing swirled through the air. David’s stomach growled.”

Taste

The sense of taste instantly gives us a positive or negative experience. If our character tastes something they don’t like, we want our reader to understand the extent of what our character feels. Instead of saying that the character didn’t like lemons, we might say that he pursed his lips in response to the sour taste.

Since smell and taste go together we often can use the same or similar sensory words. Some examples of these sensory words are:

  • Sweet
  • Sour
  • Bland

Touch

Much of what our brain percieves is percieved through touch. Let’s look at a character holding a brush. If this is important in the scene or the story, we want this to stick out in the reader’s mind. So, instead of saying that the brush was too rough for the dog, we might say, that the brush’s bristles scratched the back of her hand.

Some sensory words for touch include:

  • Bristly
  • Sticky
  • Fluffy

In my research for this post I came across a senseory word list from the 34 Kiwis blog. This is a great start to help brainstorm some of these sensory words. Using sensory detail in writing amplifies your character’s experience and goes a long way in “showing” instead of “telling.”

For more tips, first look at interviews, free coloring pages and a free lesson plan, click here.

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