Senses, we have five of them: sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. For creative writing, you can accomplish a lot using all of the senses. To truly, truly engage a reader in the surroundings of your world, you can use so much more than just the eyes to explain what your story is made up of.
When you can’t write about sight
The first time I became aware of writing with different senses was when I couldn’t write with just one. Literally. A character of mine had closed her eyes and all of a sudden I wasn’t allowed to explain what it was she was seeing.
It’s a good exercise. I turned to the most obvious second sense: hearing. This was a wonderful change! All of a sudden my story was filled with squeaks of boots, crunching sand and a whistling wind. Ever since, I’ve used sound a lot more, even when my character’s eyes aren’t closed.
Writing with other senses
But hearing is still quite an obvious one, isn’t it? What if we go further and really engage our readers into the surroundings by telling them what it is that they smell. Is it rotting fish on a market? Are they smelling scented candles or old smoke? There are so many ways you can go. One particular book that does this extremely well is Perfume by Patrick Süskind.
Taste is another wonderful sense. Write about the sourness of a lemon or the bitterness of coffee. Have the reader experience what your world is like in terms of taste. If you write fantasy and love your worldbuilding, dive into the taste palette of different folks and talk about the heat sensation for those who aren’t used to eating peppers.
Even touch can make a huge difference. It is the one I have found particularly challenging. But there are things that work for specific scenes. A light stroke can be eerie or endearing and a coarse cloth is far less comfortable for a protagonist than a woollen blanket.
Using the senses in an imaginative way
For the five senses, you can use a truckload of words. There’s a whole Oxford English Dictionary full of them! Some are however more imaginative than others. For example you can call a noise ‘loud’. This does little to intrigue the reader. Loud is quite generic. But what if you write ‘a deafening noise’. It changes the whole feel of the scene:
- The loud noise carried through the doorway.
- The deafening noise carried through the doorway.
This goes for the other senses too. Take a look at the following sentence:
- The sharp rock cut into his finger.
- The jagged rock cut into his finger.
Jagged is more detailed and it, thus, better describes what this rock actually feels like. Readers can imagine what this rock feels like a lot better. Writing is all about the details after all.
The elusive sixth sense
Yes, the sixth sense. We get to be creative here! This one is not just limited to genre fiction. We’re not talking ghosts here, although you’re welcome to use them in your story. We’re talking mood and intuition. You can have your protagonist describe a chair in a melancholy way. The chair is just a chair, but to the character it seems sad.
It’s a tricky one, but it is a sense that can greatly enhance your stories and make it breathe, make it come to life!
Watch it with the adjectives
When delving into description, you always run the risk of overusing adjectives and adverbs. Be wary of that! Make sure you use the senses to engage, to suck the reader into the story, not to explain everything just because you can.
This also means you don’t have to use every sense all the time. You really can’t, honestly! It’s just about creating a variety and steering away from merely writing about sight. Use all senses and get creative!
How do you use senses in your writing? I’d love to see some examples of your writing in the comments below!