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Why Use the Five Senses in Your Writing?


November 14, 2013 by Jen Cudmore

When you write a story, you want the reader to understand your characters, to feel what they feel. The five senses can draw the reader into the story and make it become more real. People identify with the senses based off their own experiences, so adding this element to a story is a great way to keep them interested and connected.

In my opinion, it’s easier said than done. Everyone knows what spaghetti tastes like. Why can’t I just say ‘the spaghetti was delicious’ and call that good? I certainly would rather do it this way. But I will grudgingly admit that’s just me being lazy because I don’t want to sit around dissecting the taste, texture and smell of spaghetti. And yet if I do, it will make this part of the story more satisfying for the reader.

Don’t just rely on adjectives – they’re boring. Use strong nouns and verbs when you’re describing something. And remember to show, not tell.

The five senses:

1) Sight – I think this is the easiest one. Pick a color, size, shape, texture. Then weave them together in an interesting sentence. Reference another object that’s similar, or use a contrast to a completely different object.

2) Sound – There aren’t many choices for describing a sound: low, high, loud, soft, etc. What makes the scene better is to compare the sound in your story to something your character (and your reader) has heard before.

3) Smell – This one gets a little trickier, in my opinion, because adjectives aren’t always enough. A comparison works good here as well. Sometimes you can simply say what the smell is, and other times you need to describe it.

4) Taste – If there was one sense I could get rid of, it would be this one! I have no idea what anything tastes like. My adjective list is comprised of sweet, salty, sour, and burnt. Of all the senses, this one is hardest for me to figure out, so if you have any tips, I would love to hear them!

5) Touch – I like this one because it’s the most romantic. (Okay, so maybe that’s a bit of a stretch.) Use adjectives or comparisons; they both work well.

So how do you come up with different ways to express the five senses? Many professionals encourage going out and experiencing the world. For me, because I’m not particularly good at it, I have to put a lot of thought into each scene to decide where to put them and how to make them unique. But practice makes better, and I’m determined to get better at adding sensory appeal into my stories.

As far as how much sensory appeal is right, it’ll depend on your story. I’m not quite sure how to advise you other than to say use adjectives sparingly, and when you use them, don’t pick the boring ones like ‘tall’ or ‘short’.

I’d love some feedback on your experience with the five senses and how much to put into a novel. What do you think?

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  1. Jen, a great tip I received was to go through a manuscript and use a different color to highlight each sense. It’s a great visual way to check and see which sense you need to add or focus on more. Thanks for your post 🙂

  2. Karen Lange says:

    I agree, the senses are so important to our writing. They offer the reader a richer experience, not just in fiction, but in non fiction as well.

  3. I feel this is a great way to involve your readers. No matter what the genre.
    Linda Finn
    Faithful Acres Books

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