The Power of the Senses: How to Fire Up Any Story Description

The Power of the Senses: How to Fire Up Any Story Description

As writers, it is our job to give our readers a powerful emotional experience, via story description. Many emotions come about because one or more of our five senses has been stimulated, so one way to elicit emotions is to “awaken” your readers’ senses.

  • Sight is probably the easiest sense to incorporate, because when you are in your character’s POV, you have to show what they are seeing.
  • Touch, taste, smell and sound are a little tougher to include, but once you get the hang of it, you will be able to include them instinctively.

How to Use All Five Senses in Your Story Description

Since I’m a visual learner, let’s look at a quick scene from the POV of a cop named Mary as she and her partner arrive at a house during a hunt for a missing woman

Before: The Scene With “Okay” Story Description

Mary dug her fingers into the seat as John killed the siren. They pulled around the corner onto 2nd street and came to a stop in front of the house.

A surge of adrenaline threatened to close off Mary’s throat and she concentrated on breathing slowly, methodically. She leapt from the car and dashed around it to follow John through the gate and up the path.

She scanned the small yard. Knee-high grass poked out from between corpulent bags of trash and brown beer bottles. The rusty corpse of what had once been a Ford pick-up rested on cinder blocks in the corner. The sagging fence leaned against it.

The caller had said there should be a set of steps leading to the basement around the corner.

John took the stairs three at a time. “Police! Open up!” He kicked the door, and the lock gave way.

His light stabbed into a dark corner, illuminating a tottering stack of cardboard boxes intermixed with garbage bags and an old desk missing a leg.

Mary clicked on her own light and shone it into the opposite corner. Rats scurried to escape the beam.

There, wide-eyed, hands tied behind her back and duct tape over her mouth, lay AnnaMarie. She was hyperventilating, but alive. Definitely alive.

“Oh, thank you, God!” Mary exclaimed.

This scene isn’t bad. It has some good tension. Some nice visuals with the “corpulent” trash bags, etc. But it is still just a little bland.

After: The Scene With Full-On Sensory Story Description

Let’s look at the same story with a few sensory details added:

Sound = Blue

Touch = Red

Smell = Yellow

I chose not to include any taste since there’s really nothing to taste in this scene.  However, something like “the metallic taste of fear prickled her tongue” might have been used.

Mary dug her fingers into the cracked leather of the seat as John killed the squawk of the siren. They peeled around the corner onto 2nd street and screeched to a stop in front of the house.

A surge of adrenaline threatened to close off Mary’s throat, and she concentrated on breathing slowly, methodically. She leapt from the car and dashed around it to follow John through the keening gate and up the path.

The butt of her Beretta firm and familiar against the palm of her hand, she scanned the small yard.

Knee-high grass poked out from between corpulent bags of trash and brown beer bottles. The rusty corpse of what had once been a Ford pick-up rested on cinder blocks in the corner. The sagging fence leaned against it.

The caller had said there should be a set of steps leading to the basement around the corner.

John took the stairs three at a time. “Police! Open up!” He kicked the door, and the lock gave way with a splintered groan.

Musky air draped her arms, damp and sticky, and the stench of human waste triggered her gag reflex.

John’s light stabbed into a dark corner, illuminating a tottering stack of cardboard boxes intermixed with garbage bags and an old desk missing a leg.

She clicked on her own light and shone it into the opposite corner. Rats scurried to escape the beam, their claws scritching across the cement floor.

There, wide-eyed, hands tied behind her back and duct tape over her mouth, lay AnnaMarie. She was hyperventilating, but alive. Definitely alive.

“Oh, thank you, God!” Mary exclaimed.

6 Ways to Incorporate the Power of the Senses in Your Story Description

Red Hot Squeaky Clean Romance BundleJust adding those few sensory details brings this scene to life and makes it pop right off the page into the heart of our emotions.

Reread your scenes, then stop and close your eyes.

  • See the scene.
  • Hear the scene.
  • Smell the scene.
  • Ask what the POV character is touching?
  • How does that feel?
  • Are there any tastes that need to be incorporated?

Try it! The story description will bring your scenes to life for your readers!

Tell me your opinion: What senses have you incorporated in your latest description?

The Power of the Senses How to Fire Up Any Story   Description1

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About Lynnette Bonner | @lynnettebonner

Lynnette Bonner is the author of seven novels and has consistently been on Amazon’s bestseller lists since first releasing her books independently in 2012. Lynnette’s latest book Beyond the Waves, is part of a collection of inspirational romance books. There are 10 books in this set, all for only 99 cents!

Comments

  1. This is very helpful, thanks Lynnette.

  2. I attended a writers conference where mystery author Jess Lourey suggested putting two sound, smells, and feels into each outlined scenes. That way, when you go to write the scene, you already have an idea of how the scene smells, what it sounds like, and what objects your character can touch. I thought that was a really unique way to “make” your senses work in your writing. Like you mentioned, it isn’t necessarily that hard or time consuming to add these senses, you just have to be in the right mindset!

  3. Thanks so much for sharing with us today, Lynnette!

  4. All of us use our God given senses every day. To make our chracters come alive they must feel these senses. I endeavor to write from the emotions of my heart. How I would feel in their situation.
    Writing without useing the senses is like oatmeal without, salt cinnamon, sugar and butter. and slices of bananna and even a few pecans. Very bland.

    I do see where I have written some pretty bland scenes. I am learning!

    Thank you!

  5. This area proves particularly challenging for me. I tend to write sparse and to the point prose, but even a couple of sharp, descriptive sentences can add a lot of dimension to the story. Using the senses to describe the scene from the character’s POV (waist high grass that tickles as she walks through it, from a passage I wrote last night) is a great way to stay concise and poignant. I like using that intimate POV because in real life we only notice the things that impact us, and descriptions should stick to that deeply personal experience to avoid the data dump effect.

  6. thomas h cullen says:

    For Croyan and Mariel’s Arbitration, I incorporated the most powerful sense of all:

    Seeing yourself in another.

  7. I love adding rich sensory descriptions into my writing. In my creative writing class back in high school, one of my favorite assignments was writing sensory vignettes. We practiced with just one sense at a time and then combined them all. I could see an immediate improvement in my writing and continued to practice including as many senses as possible.

  8. Smell. My 11 year-old protagonist watched his baby sister alone for the first time and, naturally, she had some serious tummy issues. Those are some fun odors to describe.

  9. Great article, Lynette. I tend to burrow down in one sense and forget the others. Not always sight, but I fall in love with one sense and overwork it. Thanks for the timely reminder to keep adding different layers. They really do enrich to reading.

    • I think that is easy for all of us to do, Sarah, especially on a first draft. On second and subsequent passes we can then keep more senses in mind. And then soon it becomes more second nature.

  10. Steve Mathisen says:

    Good job, Lynette! This information needs to be consistently revisited by some of us. (Like me.)

    Thanks to Katie for having you here today.

  11. Ok this is going to be a pain in the butt. I like the first example. Any more detail just comes across as overly flowery garbage that I instantly skip. But that’s just me. I know you normal people like it. Therefore I’ll have to learn to use it. Thank you very much for writing this.

  12. Not bad, not bad! Yare so clear… 😉

  13. I thought I was doing the final rewrite on my WIP. You have given me reason to spice it up with more details to bring the book to even more life. Thank you, Katie.

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