Writing Fiction: Using the Senses by Rebecca Talley

When writing fiction, it’s important to utilize as many of the senses as possible.

The more you can include the senses: sight, sound, smell, touch, or taste the more your readers will “feel” your story.

As writers, we tend to use sight most frequently. We describe what our characters see more often than any other sense. We are visual and that comes out in our writing.

The next most used sense is sound. We write what our characters can hear. This adds more dimension to our stories, especially when we combine it with sight. Usually, sight and sound seem to describe enough. However, we are shortchanging our readers when we only use sight and sound.

When I was a kid, I used to go to the beach all the time. I’d stop at the snack shop and for a few pennies I’d buy green apple bubble gum and chew it while I was at the beach. To this day, whenever I smell green apple bubble gum, I think of the beach. Similarly, whenever I smell a certain perfume I always think of my mother. Coffee and burned toast remind me of spending the night at my grandmother’s house. Think about smells in your life and how they remind you of certain events. The same can be true for your writing. You can evoke a certain mood by including specific scents.

You can also pull readers further into your story by including touch. Was something rough, smooth, cold, hot, slimy, sticky, or gritty? Including touch can enhance your scene and involve your reader more fully in your writing.

The same is true for taste. Can your character taste the salt on her lips while she walks along the seashore? What about the tinny taste of blood in your character’s mouth after he’s been hit in the face? Use taste to bring your scene to life.

To develop more sensitivity to your senses try keeping a sense journal for a few days, or longer. Write down everything you see, hear, touch, smell, or taste. You’ll find that as you keep this journal, you’ll become more aware of your senses and then you’ll be able to use them more effectively in your writing.

Rebecca Talley grew up in Santa Barbara, CA. She now lives in rural CO on a small ranch with a dog, a spoiled horse, too many cats, and a herd of goats. She and her husband, Del, are the proud parents of ten multi-talented and wildly-creative children. Rebecca is the author of a children’s picture book “Grasshopper Pie” (WindRiver 2003), three novels, “Heaven Scent” (CFI 2008), “Altared Plans” (CFI 2009), and “The Upside of Down” (CFI 2011), and numerous magazine stories and articles. You can visit her blog at www.rebeccatalleywrites.blogspot.com.