Adding the five senses to your writing

The art of writing requires hard work. And when you add the different aspects required to craft a sound novel, the challenges can be both exciting and overwhelming. There are so many elements to consider: Do I have good characterization? Is my plot cohesive? Have I build a solid world? Do I use the POV correctly? Is my dialog right? I could go on and on…

I love learning about my art, and always strive to be a better writer. Yet, sometimes, when I study the myriad of techniques expected to be demonstrated through a good novel, I question my talent. There is just so much to consider… What do I do? Pick up my bruised ego and go back to writing my story, of course, hoping to craft the best possible novel and willing to learn as I go.

But this blog is not about how I motivate myself back into writing. It’s about something else I forget to do when my focus on technique, in a way, distracts me from the easy things. I’ve also noticed this missing component in other writers I read: sensory layers of texture.

I’m not sure this would be considered a technique, and it does not seem to be very difficult to do (for a change), but it certainly adds a wonderful feeling for the reader. What am I talking about? The five senses!

I don’t mean one or two, but all five, and not just once or twice in the overall work, but planted here and there, like flowers on a well scented garden. I actually like to add the five senses afterwards, when I finished drafting one or several scenes, so that it does not take my focus away from the story. Then I go back and see where my characters are, what they see, what they smell, taste, touch, hear…

This week I played with sounds – from actual sounds to descriptions. For example, you can add a whoosh to the garment of your character as he rushes to catch the 10:30 pm dragon, or a creak to the old planks of wood on the castle. My favorite seems to be the wind, which can whisper, whistle, roar, smack branches… The wind is very talkative.

What about the other senses? If the characters eat, what flavor melts in their mouths and what makes them wrinkle their noses? Can they smell the sweet decay of leaves in the forest? How do their garments feel? Is the fabric rough or silky?

I have a different take with vision, though, because we already tell the reader what our characters see. Besides, how many characters have time to check the details around them? To me, this is about what the reader sees. I better explain… The character may not have time to see the droplet of dew shining like a pearl under the moonlight as he runs for his life, but that can be added to the background.

So remember to add the five senses to your novels. It’s fun, the texture created adds another dimension, and it’s not very hard to do. You can just add them after you finish that first draft!

The main resource I use to find sounds, tastes and smells is Word Menu, from Random House. And this page has a good list – http://referenceforwriters.tumblr.com/post/51422933610/word-list-taste-smell-sound

Leave a Reply