For your story to come to life on the page, introduce your readers to the five senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. Anything that captures our senses makes the scene more intense and real to us. We crave sensory experiences.

Whether it be indoors, flying on a plane, or riding in an elevator with several strangers, we humans rely on our senses to take in and interpret the world. At the same time, many beginning writers make the mistake of relying only the sense of sight to describe a scene. But if you’re only writing with sight, you’re ignoring four of the five senses. If this is you, don’t worry, I’m here to help.

Senses are deeply engrained in our language. That’s why it’s so much fun when we can taste, hear, touch, see, and smell what the writer has written—getting those sensory juices flowing. Ultimately, evoking sensory experiences with your descriptions is one of the most powerful talents you have as a writer.

But how does a writer accomplish these within a sentence, paragraph, or chapter? For my own writing, I find it helpful to plot my stories. This gives me a roadmap for not only what’s happening now, but what’s to come. This isn’t to say a pantser (someone who writes by the seat of their pants) is unable to achieve this. I too started out as a pantser, and I loved the idea of learning the story as I sat down to write. One of the problems I encountered with this style of writing was it would often drive me down a path that led to the wrong outcome in the story. If you’re a pantser and you’ve struggled with this, don’t become discouraged and think you have to change your writing style and become a plotter. I have many writing friends who have always been a pantser and swear by this style, so don’t give up. But know that as a writer, you have many tools in your writing toolbox.

Now back to the topic of discussion on the five senses.

The key for me is to visualize the scene. Sometimes I can smell the different scents going on in the chapter. For example, if the character is cooking what are they cooking, and can you describe the smell, sight or sounds going on here. Is your character speaking to someone while they’re cooking.  Maybe the character is sautéing onions and frying chicken, while speaking to a friend who is visiting. Or maybe you’re brewing coffee in the morning.

If they are cutting the yard, can you describe the surroundings—the roaring of a lawn mower or the whine of an electric weed-eater. The smell of freshly cut grass, sweat stinging your character’s eyes, or the taste of iced tea on a hot day. When a writer can use vivid descriptions and unlock the five senses, you’re able to provide the reader with sensory details that relate to the character, setting, or tone of the story.

These are only a few examples, and I hope you have a better understanding about writing sensory experiences in your story.

Good luck and happy writing.

If you’re interested in more of my writing tips, click here

If you’re interested in any of my novels, click here


James Glass retired from the United States Navy after 22 years of service. After retiring, he exchanged his rifle for a pen. He and his family moved back to the Florida Panhandle. He’s married and has two children. James is also the President of the Panhandle Writer's Group.

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