Using All 5 Senses in Writing

School children learn how to wrap words around their senses. They’re taught to describe the world through more than just what they can see. Yet most adults and many writers forget and forgo adding senses to their writing, leaving the reader with only one path into the story.

Emotion has lot to do with how a reader perceives your book. Love. Hate. Empathy. Suspicion. You want the reader to fall into your story…to fall in love with the heroine or despise the nemesis. But one sided writing makes it difficult to pull the reader in so deeply they forget to turn off the kettle or don’t hear the phone ring.

Emotion is hard to lock onto if you’re only catching onto one sense. Authors need to be able to convey not only the sights, but the sounds, scents, colours and even tastes in the world of their books. Show the story – don’t just tell it.

What does autumn look like?

  • Yellows, reds, oranges
  • Colourful trees
  • Garden rakes and leaf piles
  • Pumpkins on porches, Jack-o-lanterns
  • Coats and jackets, long pants
  • Shorter days, longer nights
  • Closed windows

What does autumn sound like?

  • Crunching leaves underfoot
  • Wind rustling dried leaves on branches
  • “Trick or Treat!”

What does autumn smell like?

  • Pumpkin spiced tea
  • Fresh air
  • Hot chocolate
  • Cinnamon

What does autumn feel like? What can I touch?

  • Cold and breezy on the skin, goosebumps
  • Soft sweaters
  • Warm, cozy flannel blankets
  • Smooth pumpkin shells
  • Squishy, cold pumpkin seeds

What does autumn taste like?

  • Gooey cinnamon rolls
  • Warm soup and beef stew
  • Roasted turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy
  • Grandma’s apple pie
  • Sweet caramel apples

The best way to remind yourself is to prompt yourself with the questions:

What do I see?

What do I hear?

What do I smell?

What can I touch?

What can I taste?

You don’t need to overload your narrative with all five senses all the time, but for key scenes you need to let the reader sense what’s happening, not just see it.  Give them the words that will let them feel the smooth polished surface of the bannister beneath their fingertips.  Let them smell the sharp spicy scent of the fresh baked pumpkin pie and taste the sugary sweet icing of your favourite cinnamon roll.  Draw them in with the snapping crunch of the leaves beneath their feet.

Pull them into the world of your story and don’t let them go.