Sorry for the brief delay with this post–had some deadlines to meet! Let’s continue discussing how to add sensory details to everything we write, bringing our stories and even nonfiction pieces alive. Last time I talk about sight and sound. Today, let’s look at touch, taste, and smell.

Touch--Being able to describe with your writing how something feels adds an extra dimension to your story. As with sound, we don’t always think about all the textures in our environment. But when we take the time to consider what’s around us then find the perfect word to describe it, we can successfully bring our readers into the story so they can experience it for themselves.

Think about some of the textures immediately around you right now: the grain of a wooden desk, the smoothness of a glass window, the fuzziness of carpet fibers, and so forth. Consider using descriptive words like gritty, mushy, or jagged in your writing to bring out an exact sense of what you want your reader to feel. Don’t forget to use similes, metaphors, and analogies as well to compare the object you want your reader to experience to something that will trigger an immediate response because of its familiarity or precise picture it paints. An example is saying that “The rain felt like icicles piercing your skin.” Much more descriptive than telling you the rain was cold!

Taste–Sometimes we need to get a little creative when trying to insert taste images into our writing. What we’re writing about may not always provide the perfect set-up to describe how something tastes. For this sensory detail, you definitely need to think beyond the obvious food and drink tastes. For example, the air near a beach can taste salty. Falling on a football field may cause you to taste the grimy soil!

Looking for creative places to add taste sensory detail is well worth it. Most people have a fairly strong sense of taste. And, taste is one of those things that engraves itself into our memory. So, sprinkling familiar taste sensations throughout your writing is a great way to engage your reader. Remember too that taste and smell go hand in hand. So, sometimes, you can offer a sensory detail for taste simply by describing how something smells then mentioning how that smell effects the sense of taste. For instance, if you’re describing freshly baked chocolate chip cookies in terms of smell, you can add how the smell alone makes your mouth water thinking about the gooey chocolate melting on your tongue. Here, I didn’t specifically talk about taste but implied it through smell and texture.

Smell–Much like taste, scents tend to stick in our minds for years and years. Think about a certain perfume or cologne an old girlfriend or boyfriend wore, the way your grandmother’s kitchen always smelled, or how your newly born baby smelled. Smells have a way of lingering. Capitalize on this in your writing to bring readers into your story by helping them recount scents from their past. I guarantee if you write about how your grandma’s kitchen smelled, your readers will begin to drift back to their own grandmother’s kitchen. This is exactly what you want, because now they are making connections from your story to their own lives, thus investing themselves in your story.

Adding sensory detail in the area of smell can immediately pull a reader into a scene or help bring a character to life. Smells can create a warm, cozy environment ( bread baking, smoke from a fireplace, cinnamon cider, etc) or one you’d want to run from (the smell of a hobo or an inner city alley). Using the sense of smell is a great way to evoke the specific emotion you want to elicit from your reader.

After you’ve added the five senses into your writing, go back through your manuscript and highlight each instance of sensory detail. Use different colored highlighters for each sense, which allows you to see which ones you’ve perhaps overused or, worse, which ones you haven’t used at all! It’s a great way to get an immediate visual of how well your use of sensory detail is balanced throughout your story.

If you have any other tips for how to make sure you’re adding enough sensory detail to your writing, or any ideas for how to creatively insert the senses, please leave a comment to help others.

Happy Monday…and happy birthday to me!!

My family and I celebrated my birthday last night. My oldest son (13) thought he could get away with making fun of my age by getting me a card that went on and on about my birthday cake: how it’s blazing in flames, super huge to accommodate all the candles, etc. In describing the cake, the writer hit on all of the senses in order to help me visualize and experience exactly what it would look, feel, smell, taste, and even sound like (the boom from the eventual explosion!).

The description reminded me of an excerpt from a workshop I recently taught on how to engage your reader by using all of the senses throughout your writing. This is one of the best ways to involve your readers in what you write and help them experience your characters, settings, and action. Often, we don’t include enough of it in our writing, or we’re off-balance with the type and amount of sensory description we do use.

Whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, including the five senses can go a long way to help bring your writing to life. Let’s look at some specific ways to incorporate each sense:

1. Sight–This is perhaps the easiest sense to use and, for that reason, probably the one most frequently added by writers. One great way to add sight sensory detail is by describing colors, especially specific color hues. Instead of calling something “red,” for instance, you could say “tomato red” instead. And, describing the brightness or darkness of aspects of a setting will change the entire mood of a scene.

Giving visual details about a character–either how that person looks or the clothes he wears–will bring him to life in your reader’s mind. If you mention that your character has a sword tattooed on his shoulder, your reader will see that every time he is pictured. Another way to add sight details is to compare the way something looks to something else, either with metaphors or similes. You can also visually describe objects using shapes, patterns, or the flow of lines. Think specifically and concretely when describing things you can see. It’s much easier to picture a skinny, gray and black-striped kitten than a cat.

2. Sound–We don’t often think much about all the sounds around us, but there are many. A great exercise to jump start our sound perception is to find a quiet spot indoors and get still. It may take a few minutes, but I guarantee you’ll begin to hear sounds–the quiet ticking of a clock in another room, the annoying dripping of a faucet, the buzz of a fly. Now go outside and do the same thing. If it’s noisy outside, try to focus on one sound at a time and really “hear” it. Try to describe the sound of a motorcycle rambling down your street, or a child crying, or the wind rustling the leaves. Think of all the specific verbs you can to accurately describe the sounds you hear.

I remember writing a children’s story a while back, and I had re-created a scene from my childhood to use as a fictional scene. In this scene, my friends and I were playing baseball in August in the Midwest. The temperature was in the 90s and so was the humidity. As I wrote the story, all the sensory details from one particular day came back to my mind. I remembered playing second base. It was so hot and still on the field, I could literally hear the ground sizzle as I stood in the field waiting for the batter to hit the ball. That’s hot! It was just the sensory detail my story needed to show, not tell, how hot and humid it was on that playing field. And, thinking about it made me really glad I now live in Colorado!

Just like sight, including sensory details for sound will bring your reader into your story. And there are so many wonderful and fun sounds we can use in our writing. Make a list of sounds you hear throughout the day (You do keep a notepad and pen with you at all times, right?), and use that list to help you choose just the perfect sound when it’s  time to write. Think of sounds like “whistle,” “ping,” “thunder,” “bubble,” or “smack.” Sounds can be metallic, soft, irritating, or melodic, just to name a few. Have fun choosing from all the amazing sounds around you to create the perfect image for your reader!

Come back next week when I’ll finish the discussion on sensory detail by talking about touch, taste, and smell!