On Writing Well: Using All Your Senses

One of the hardest things to communicate as a writer is immediacy. As I sit here at my desk, I am very aware of all my senses- the sound of the keyboard tap-tapping as I write, the slightly acrid taste of my coffee, the glow of the overhead lamp, reflected on the screen- I am connected to all of these things. Yet, often, when sitting down to write about an event, I forget a lot of what I have experienced and my sentences are wooden and dull.

The quickest way to put some verve back into your sentence is to write from your senses. While describing a place and event or even a character, incorporating all your 5 sentences within your writing will communicate the immediacy of your experience and make your writing more authentic.

Smell

This is possibly the most powerful of all the writing tools. Everyone associates smell with memory and memory with emotions – so use this one well.

Look at this sentence: He bit into a delicious apple

But it can be made to work harder, telling us more about the protagonist: He bit into the apple, releasing the tart, fresh smell, and transporting him immediately to a younger self grandma’s kitchen table, doing homework as she cut mounds of apples for the Thanksgiving pie.

The second sentence is a launching ground for a great deal of character development, and opportunity that does not truly exist in the first sentence.

Smell can be used in several different ways:

  • To offer a backstory: In came father, reeking as usual, of whiskey and smoke.
  • To develop character: She smelled of cheap perfume and yesterday’s sweat.
  • To create a sense of space: The house smelled of furniture polish and fresh linen. OR The house smelled of sorrow and long disappointment.

In the last sentence, see how the smell is mostly an emotion? This is the only sense where you can legitimately pull this off, without moving into melodrama. With all the others, it’s best to stick to more concrete descriptors.

  • Sight: The sun rose

Using the senses: The sun rose over the hills, its pale gold rays lighting up the valleys

  • Taste: He drank the lemonade

Using the senses: He drank the lemonade, its icy freshness reviving him as nothing else could.

  • Touch: She touched his face

Using the senses: She touched his face, his skin papery under her fingers.

  • Hearing: She heard him approach

Using the senses: She heard him approach, his tread slow and heavy, and his breath growing louder and louder and he got closer.

As you can see, with a touch of added feeling, you can easily transform dull descriptions into vivacious explorations.

[Image by Dennis Wong, CC-BY, via flickr]

 

 

7 thoughts on “On Writing Well: Using All Your Senses

  1. Excellent write, I really like the sense of smell part. I’ve never really thought to use it as much as I would taste, sight or hearing. Thanks for the read! ^^

  2. Thank you, for me, a great reminder. For my fellow writers, a well-put thought. May I quote you? No, seriously, I’m going to copy this in an email & send to my writing group. Thanks.

  3. I really hadn’t thought about writing in this way. This hub was very worth while and informative as someone who loves to write. I don’t think you can ever stop improving on writing. Thank you

  4. admire the way you write about senses. wonderful experience while reading your article, so much to learn from you sir/mam.

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