Improving My Writing

Using the 5 Senses in a Scene

Show vs. tell. We’ve all heard it, over and over. Don’t say that the moon is full; describe the glow reflecting off a pond while fog rises off the ground, giving your character’s view an eerie feeling.

Your character as well as your readers should be able to feel the moment. Something that I’ve personally been working on is making sure I use the 5 human senses as often as possible in each scene to help with that “showing rather than telling.”

Touch: Feel, impact, physical strain, texture…
What is your character coming into direct contact with? Maybe their new clothes feel tight or scratchy. Maybe one football player just collided with another. Perhaps an injured character is feeling physical pain or pressure caused by a bandage. Water pouring down their body or sweat rolling down their back. Focus on what your character is feeling and touching.

Taste: Food, water, blood, kiss, salt, dryness.
Is your character snacking while doing something? Has fear made their mouth go dry? Kisses have a taste sometimes: the coffee a character just drank; toothpaste, tobacco, alcohol.

Sight: details, beauty, darkness, something scary, surroundings.
What does your character notice as soon as they walk into the room or as soon as someone new is introduced? What details stand out? How will they find their way back to where they started? Note whether there is more darkness or light. Haze or fog. Colors. Something that will terrify your character(s) or something that will put them at ease. Help your readers see what your character is seeing.

Sound: Speech, dialect, silence, nature, man-made sounds, machinery, music.
A chattering crowd. Chirping birds. Babbling water. Car engines, a backfire, jackhammers. Music — live or recorded. Different tones, languages, dialects, levels of grammar. Each of these things can make specific characters, scenes, and situations stand out all the more. And if something stands out, it is more memorable.

Smell: Food, water, sweat, perfume, blood, dirt, pavement.
The stench of blood — fresh or dry. Fresh or salt water. A rain storm moving in. Fresh cut hay. Wet dogs. Plowed ground. Wet pavement or hot, fresh, sticky pavement. A smell that takes your character back to a favorite memory or one that scares them into running again. (Smells trigger memories more easily and stronger than any other sense we have) A smell that issues a warning or that disgusts or calms them. Remember that f the sense of smell is cut off, the sense of taste will be too.

Then practice putting all those sense together.
all senses

Use a scene such as this one. Describe the scent of popcorn and cotton candy in the air. There would be lots of sounds: music, screaming, talking, laughter, carnival workers calling to the crowd. The taste of sweet elephant ears, cotton candy melting in a character’s mouth. The rushing feeling of being on a ride, the warm summer night, mosquito bites, characters holding hands, perhaps a character feels sick after getting on the wrong ride. The sights: lights, stars, crowds, recognizing friends, excitement reflected in a character’s eyes.

So those are my tips for using all five senses in your writing. What are ways you use the human senses?





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