As writers we are especially aware of the five senses. We use the five senses to transport our reader into the scene we are describing. However, I propose that we are not using the five senses to their full potential.

How to Unlock the Five Senses in Your Writing

You see, I didn’t used to give the five senses much credit when it came to my writing. But the truth is, the five senses have a power to connect with our readers in a deep way.

How to Write Using All Five Senses

It’s all well and good to tell you you should use the five senses in your writing. But how? Here are ways you can draw on each sense to immerse your readers in your story:

Write With Sight

When I was writing the first draft of my book, I met regularly with a writer’s group (which is essential), and one of the pieces of feedback I received most was “show, don’t tell.”

Don’t simply tell your reader how you feel or what is going on, my writing group told me. Show them.

I began to experiment, and I soon discovered there is more to writing with sight than “green trees” and “blue skies.”

Here’s an exercise: Ask yourself, “What am I seeing?” You might start with the mundane white car driving by, but I challenge you to look further. Beyond the man walking by with tattoos covering his arms, watch the way he walks. Does he stare at the ground as he walks or does he confidently stare forward?

What do you really see? What do you not see? What does it mean?

Write With Taste

Describing taste can be a fun way to keep your reader intrigued in the details. So often we neglect or even simply forget to describe the way something might taste or what that taste means.

This might be awful, but my favorite way to describe what something tastes like is by use of a metaphor. My favorite comedian, Tim Hawkins, compares the flavor and taste of a Krispy Kreme donut to “eating a baby angel.” How true is that, though?

My roommate describes her tomato soup like “just coming in from a blizzard, kicking your boots off, and sitting in front of the fire.”

The metaphors we use have the power to transport even our readers to places that evoke memories and emotion from their own life, allowing a deeper connection to be made.

Write With Smell

Generally we categorize smells into two options: good or bad. But I believe that even smells can help tell stories.

When you begin to describe a scene close your eyes and envision all of the possible smells that surround you. Smells do not only describe food and body odor; they can be used to describe the weather, a room, or a situation.

Try describing some smells yourself. How else do you think the phrase “this smells fishy” was coined?

Write With Sound

The most popular way to describe sounds in writing is with the use of onomatopoeia. And those are fun, especially when making up your own.

Besides onomatopoeia, I never thought there was another way to really describe sound, until I started really listening.

There are noises all around you. As I write this, I hear the click of keys, the low hum of the air conditioner, the whoosh of a car passing by, soft laughter from another room—the soundtrack of a quiet, peaceful morning.

Have you listened to your environment? Have you listened to your characters’ environment? And have you unlocked what the sounds are really telling you?

There’s more to listen to than the sounds of your environment, too. As I wrote my own memoir, I found myself constantly asking myself what I was hearing internally. Sounds are not always external buzzes and bangs—sometimes they come in the form of thoughts and voices. Some of those sounds are truths and some are lies.

Some sounds tell the reader where you are or what you are doing without actually having to tell them.

Write With Touch

Describing the way things feel is just plain fun. The number of adjectives available are endless.

My two favorite ways to describe touch is through temperature and texture.

Her fingers skimmed the cool, silky water.

When writing about touch, the physical is very important to describe, but even more important is the invisible. The different aspects that are “touched” but not with your hands.

The Key to Unlocking the Five Senses

As you have probably noticed by now, the key to unlocking the five senses is the question behind it. The question of why you are seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, or feeling something.

Once you’ve established the sense, ask the question, “What does this mean?” What does it tell your readers about your character and their world? You don’t want to bog readers down with unnecessary details, but a few well-placed words to evoke the five senses can immerse your readers in your story and subtly show them what’s really going on.

Which is YOUR favorite sense to write with? Let me know in the comments section!

PRACTICE

Close your eyes and imagine one of your favorite places: a local coffee shop, the beach, the small bakery in Paris . . . take yourself anywhere. Then, take fifteen minutes and practice describing this place while asking the deeper questions—what does each detail really mean to us?

When you’re done, post your practice in the comments, and be sure to leave feedback for your fellow writers!

Kellie McGann
Kellie McGann
Kellie McGann is the founder of Write a Better Book. (www.writeabetterbook.com) She partners with leaders to help tell their stories in book form.

On the weekends, she writes poetry and prose.

She contributes to The Write Practice every other Wednesday.