Those five senses are:
Sight is probably the easiest and most commonly used of the senses. And it is great to use colors and word pictures to make us “see” a scene. Use specifics: instead of saying “colorful flowers,” use “the delphinium’s bursts of magenta and blue” OR “the show-stopping red hollyhock blossoms.”
But close your eyes and try to describe the scene with one or more of your other senses.
Smell is perhaps the strongest sense of them all and certainly evokes the deepest memories and feelings. “My first boyfriend smelled like sawdust and Necco wafers.” Or “the potent brew of flowers, cigarettes and something musty I couldn’t identify.”
Sound: How can you put the reader into this scene? Birds chirping, flowing water in a creek, the rustle of wind in the trees. What picture does this phrase evoke: “a voice like 35-year-old scotch.”
Touch: “chalk dust slick on his fingers.” Touch can also add texture to the scene with the tiny mention of a character being scratched by a bush, touching the fragile petal of a flower, caressing a silk party dress. Mood can be intensified by the choices you make.
Taste: a metallic taste in a character’s mouth might signify fear or it might give the reader a clue about something in the plot. Memories flood back with the description of fresh-baked bread, or hot cocoa on a cold night.
When I wrote about a rodeo in my book, the reader wants to know, not only what you see at this event—the crowd, the cowboys, the horses, bulls, etc., but they want to hear the cattle bawling, the horses whinnying and snorting, the cowboys yelling, the crowd cheering. The reader wants to smell the dust, the manure, the sweat, the tobacco, the leather. He/she wants to feel the nerves and the fear before the cowgirl rides, the thousand pounds of muscle and bone beneath her, the jolt of every jump, the hard leather of the saddle, etc. The reader wants to know, how does fear or nervousness taste? How does victory or failure taste? What do dust, sweat, all the smells in the air taste like?
I’ve heard the advice to use all five senses in every scene. That probably isn't practical, but including more than sight is a way to connect your reader to your story.
As an exercise, imagine that you've walked into any of the following places. Write a paragraph, a page incorporating all the senses about you what you find: Your grandmother's house, an emergency room in the hospital, the trailhead into a dense forest, the classroom on your first day of school. See if you can evoke a particular mood, such as sorrow, anger, disappointment, fear, or anticipation.
How do you use the senses in your writing?
A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in North-central Arizona. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, is based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, won the national WILLA Award. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing, and is a member of Northwest Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing and edits, blogs, and is working on the next books in her “Dare to Dream” series.