Using sight, sound, smells, taste and touch to enhance your writing

As writers we know we need to paint a picture for our readers. We need to surround them with details so that our make-believe world is real to them. And by describing the sights and sounds in the scene, we do a good job of this but too often writers ignore the other senses. Well, unless you are a romance or erotica author, and then you certainly don’t ignore the sense of touch. <grin>

But we enrich our writing when we use all the senses – sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch.  Using all of these details makes a scene come to life.


Remember, what your character sees is what your reader sees, and if you fail to describe very much, your reader won’t fully appreciate the scene. However, there is a such thing as too much description. There is no need to describe the cracks and peeling paint on a sign unless it has some relevance to your story.


The sense of smell can invoke powerful memories; a certain perfume may remind you of someone, or freshly cut grass may bring back memories of your childhood. By adding the sense of smell to your writing, you create a subtle sense of atmosphere and add another layer to your descriptive passages for your reader to enjoy. This is an often overlooked sense, but it can provide background color to your narrative.


This is perhaps the most neglected sense in writing. Eating can be a shared, sensual pastime. Arouse your reader’s taste buds. Was the apple pie warm and delicious and make the character remember the pies their grandmother made or was it barely edible and tasted of cardboard?


Whether it’s characters or background noise, remember to add a sense of sound to the narrative to help your reader feel the scene. This could be the chirping of birds in the morning or the fog horn of the ships at the harbor.


You can describe the feel of material of a character’s dress, the feel of a baby’s skin, the roughness of the ropes binding your character’s wrists and so much more to add to your description.


These senses may be just small details of your whole novel but remember it’s all in the details.

Here is an example of how using the senses can change a scene.

Basic scenario:

Taylor crawled through the tunnel, keeping his head low, so he wouldn’t bang it on the low ceiling. A dim light shone in the distance so he knew the end was near.

The above example gives the reader no clue where Taylor is or how he feels about the tunnel or what he sees other than the light at the end. The following two paragraphs allow the reader to experience the tunnel with Taylor.

Scenario #1

Taylor crawled through the tunnel ignoring the slime sliding through his fingers. The fecal smell of the sewer nearly made him gag, so he forced himself to breathe through his mouth. The stench was so bad he could almost taste it. He kept his head down to avoid scraping it on the low ceiling. A dim light shone in the distance so he knew the end was near. He couldn’t wait to breathe clean air once again.

Scenario #2

Taylor crawled through the tunnel, wincing as the sharp rocks sliced into his hands and knees. He had to keep head low, so he wouldn’t bang it on the rocks jutting out of the low ceiling. He took a deep breath. The pungent smell of flowers let him know his destination was near. A dim light shone in the distance. The rocks sparkled in the light causing them to resemble precious jewels.