Monday, July 18, 2016

How to use the 5 senses for more vivid writing

Using the five senses enriches the setting, enhances character and shows your reader the story.

Used wisely and folded into the world of your characters, the senses ground your reader in a unique location, add textures and atmosphere to the story, and draw your reader in.

The five senses at work.


What does you character see in the surroundings? What is unique to the current location?

Trees crowded the road but here and there squares of cleared land sported buildings. On the inner side of the island he saw a house with an outbuilding and a circle of trees at its back. The clearings on the left, the ocean side, often left gaps and he caught glimpses of water, dark, rolling and cold looking. Some of the houses were older two story places— weathered and over-painted, houses of time and displayed character. (A glimpse at Dane's Island and Caleb's Cove in the Caleb Cove Mystery Series.)


Are the sounds those of a city, an ocean, a mountain? A city boy at night in the country will be aware in a different manner than a country boy in the same spot. How does your character react to the sounds around them? What memories or anticipations do those sounds trigger?

Frank tipped his head against the tree and closed his eyes tuning in to the sounds. Two birds nattered above him. A slight breeze brushed the tree, the sound not soft enough to be a rustle, not sharp enough to be a clatter. He'd spent years drunk, sleeping in parks and culverts in good weather and heading to the homeless shelters in bad. Back then he wouldn't have noticed the birds or the breeze. He'd have been too consumed with locating the next drink.
A cough echoed around him, and he jerked up. He checked the open area, the rock pile off to the right and the bush on the left. There was a second cough. Tension drained away. Some poor slob was behind the bushes. A drunk who couldn't or wouldn't get sober. (Excerpt from Came Home to a Killing, Book 2 in the Caleb Cove Mystery Series)


This is much more than a hand on an object. It is the brush of air against a cheek or the chill seeping into toes about to freeze. Air can be perceived as soft or harsh, breezy or still. The elements, air, water, fire, and earth create touch.

She breathed in. There is air. I won’t smother. She rolled onto her knees and felt with her hands. One hand plunged in the water. She lost her balance, rolled and hit the ocean's cold, gasping, she sank under the surface. The shock stopped her breath for a heartbeat. She kicked and came up sputtering and clawing at the ledge. Fright once again had her by the neck. (Excerpt: Came Home Too Late, Book 3)


The odors of a farm yard are very different from the local bus terminal. Smell evokes the strongest memories and reactions. Use it to your advantage when portraying your characters.

He sipped his coffee and savored both it and the pungent salt odor of seaweed roiled by the storm and the damp, old smell of the dock soaked by the waves. (Came Home Dead)


This gives you a wide area in which to play. Can we taste the air? Experience city grit when rain hits our tongues? Does the freshness of ripe cherries burst over our senses when we kiss our lover?

Additionally, food eaten is different cultures and areas of the country can add to the texture of the setting. Hodge Podge, a mixture of baby vegetables topped with a butter and cream sauce, followed by a dessert of Blueberry Grunt is a meal indicative of the South Shore of Nova Scotia. (Find the Blueberry Grunt Recipe in last week's blog below.)

Mix and Match

The senses can be combined in various ways. The odor of BBQing pork precedes the taste and texture of the meat on our tongues. The sight of a field of ripe, plump blueberries can bring back memories and summon taste experienced from the past. A vivid mix of senses intensifies the experience of a character.

Heat filled the trailer and voices echoed in the campground and, in one final, jerky movement, Emily sat up. Her hair straggled around her head and strands stuckto her cheeks. Her shoulders ached and her P.J. collar, damp and clammy, clung to her. Her mouth was once again that telltale dryness that followed being drugged. Pounding filled her head and tightened her scalp. One hell of a night. (Came Home Too Late.)

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