Using the 5 senses

Description is a bit old hat to some writers, but I like it. As long as it isn’t over done, it can bring me right inside a story, giving me a great sense of time and place. I do love writers that can do that. Some of the Scandinavians get this so right in their chilling novels.

But description is hard to do well. Sometimes we need to find new ways to describe something our character has found or been given. It’s very easy to describe something just by its appearance.

When you’re describing something in your writing, how do you do it? Find six adjectives and use them all? Stick a pin in a use just one?

It is good to see things from a different point of view. Look at them as if we have never seen them before. Maybe we haven’t – maybe they are alien to us, straight from the planet Zog, or we just never took a really good look at them before.

We need to use all the senses if we are to make something come alive for the reader. Maybe not on every page, but hearing, sight, touch, smell and taste can enliven any piece of writing and make you feel as though you are really there. Especially smells – I think that is the most evocative of the senses, but don’t forget any of them. It’s no accident that films and tv programmes include music. That music is carefully written and chosen to provoke the right reaction in our heads. It hits straight at the limbic system and takes us somewhere, even if we don’t want to go.

So that thing you want to describe: forget for a second how it looks, how does it feel to your character? Does she think it’s heavy? Or is it lighter than she first thought? Maybe it’s made from foam, when it looks like bronze. Or perhaps that statue of David is edible – marshmallow and jelly. So, if she licks it, what will it taste of? Are we back to cold stone again or will it taste of Parma violets? Or smell so vile, your character couldn’t possibly bring herself to get close enough to taste? How does it feel – rough, smooth, indented? Is it old? How does she know?

Is it buzzing or clicking, or is it so quiet it somehow drowns all other sounds? Or is it screaming, going off like a car alarm every few minutes?

OK, take a good look at it now that you know something about it. What is it and what does it really look like?

I love to try to get smells and sounds into my writing and sometimes it is hard to do it without being obvious.

I hope this helps you to do that too.

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4 responses to “Using the 5 senses

  1. You know…this gives me a good kick in the motivation backside to do some writing exercises. I used to go places and listen, writing down the sounds, smells, feels, then try to expand on them. I keep them in a notebook so when I need…let’s say…a roller rink…I’ve got an index of senses.
    I’ve been too busy writing and not taking a break to exercise my mind.I need to get to a police station and do some research. Thanks for the nudge.

  2. Enjoyed this one, definitely. You’re absolutely right. Good quality description is hard to come by; much like the soft flowing creek of crisp, clear water that ‘tinks’ over the small edge to tease your ears into further listening. Over-do the description, and it’s as bland as an average cracker that leaves a bad taste in one’s mind instead of one’s mouth.

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