How to Write Description that Will Delight Your Readers’ Senses
NY Times Bestselling Author Nicholas Sparks writes to delight our senses.
In his book, Safe Haven, he writes, “While pockets of mist rose from the ground, rolling clouds drifted past the moon, bringing light and shadow in equal measures.”
Two or three sentences later, Sparks appeals to our sense of hearing as he writes, “Her mother would sing to herself, melodies from childhood, some of them in Polish.”
Another favorite? “There was a time when she’d been as thin as a heated strand of blown glass.”
Three Tips for Improving your Multi-Sensory Writing
Many writers say they struggle most with appealing to one’s sense of smell, yet studies say our strongest memories are linked to specific scents.
The most beloved and engaging books are descriptive-rich, engaging all our senses as we move through the story. As writers, we usually have our favorite sense, finding it easy to paint compelling visuals while potentially ignoring, for example, the kinesthetics among us.
To create a full, engaging experience for our readers, however, we must write to delight all five of the senses: sight, sound, smell, touch and taste. Neglect one or several senses and a story becomes flat, one-dimensional and sadly cast aside.
If you’d like to better write to all five senses, here are my three tips:
1. Create a Resource List of Sensory-Rich Words
Spend some time brainstorming a list of descriptive words that you can refer to when needing inspiration. Continually add to your list, expanding your categories as they evolve. Your list could look like this:
Sound Words: drone, buzz, bark, rumble, rustle, gurgle, quiet as midnight
Touch (feeling) Words: spongy, dizzying warmth, gritty, jagged
Romantic Words: bewitching, enchanting, cherished
2. Expand your Vocabulary
Seriously. To make your writing more complex and interesting, we need to know more complex and interesting words.
Make it a point to look up words you don’t recognize. Read other author’s works, writing down words and phrasing that speak to you. Visit sites like this. Make the thesaurus your good friend. Download a “word of the day” app. Buy a “new word a day” daily calendar. Be creative in finding new words and use them daily.
3. Be More Present to Your Life
We are consistently surrounded by rich sensory experiences—IF we take the time to notice them. The first day of school after a lazy summer. Camping under the midnight sky. The sounds of a Little League ball game. A visit to the one-building department store in rural Wisconsin. The elderly woman inching her way across the street.
Become a keen observer and recorder of the sensory intricacies of life. Make it a habit to jot down your observances in a journal. Quick snippets like “her hair was the color of a butterscotch candy” or “elderly lady bent over like a comma” can jumpstart your creative thinking when you need it.
What tips do you have to write to all five senses?
Using the picture above as your jumping off point (or another imaginary scene of your choosing), choose one or two “senses” through which you wish to engage your reader. Choose one that is usually difficult for or neglected by you.
Write for fifteen minutes, tapping your imagination for descriptive-rich writing that goes beyond the tiresome clichés! (i.e., his eyes were as blue as the sky!) Add your writing to the comments section and encourage others with your feedback.
About Marianne Richmond
I'm Marianne Richmond—writer, artist and inspirationalist. My words have touched millions over the past two decades through my children's books and gift products. Basically I put love into words and help you connect with the people + moments that matter. You can find me on my website, Facebook, and Twitter (@M_Richmond21).