"Wherever men have lived there is a story to be told." Henry David Thoreau

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Hone the Five Senses to Improve Your Writing

As writers, we mostly use the sense of sight in our descriptions, but we can enrich our stories by consciously using the other four senses as well. Finding just the right place to insert this information can be tricky, but one good way is to "show" it through the viewpoint of a character; i.e., through their five senses rather than putting it in a lengthy narrative that slows the action and causes the reader to tune out.

All of us are more attuned to our surroundings when we step out of our own environment and see something for the first time. Remember what it was like to be a child when you noticed everything around you and it was all a wonder to behold? You were so fascinated by everything and you had so many questions about life and the world. If that was too long ago to recollect ☺ then watch your children and grandchildren as they encounter the world around them. If you see the world again through their inquisitive eyes, you'll find your own senses sharpened.

Try this exercise: The next time you leave the house, even if it's only to go to the grocery store, plug your senses into your surroundings (turn off your Blackberry, your IPod, and leave your laptop at home). Then make yourself look around you as if you've just stepped off the bus (or the spaceship) into a strange town (or onto a new planet). You'll be surprised at everything you take for granted and everything that you've grown so accustomed to that you have blocked it all from your mind. When you later sit at the computer to paint your word pictures, allow your imagination to connect to your newly attuned senses and you will more effectively draw your reader into your story.

Coming up: Some examples of how the five senses have been successfully incorporated into published works.


Anonymous said...

Very interesting post. I'll be looking forward to the tutorial on how to use the five sentences for painting word pictures.


B.J. Anderson said...

Awesome exercise! I'm definitely going to try this one. And great post. Can I link to it? :D

Avril said...

Some great advice for writers - its something I have been doing a lot of in france - as you say, plugging into one's surroundings and then making a list of everything -in single words, or phrases, and that includes smells, noises, colours, textures, people etc - great for the novel, great for poetry too. the lsit means you keep it too. But I would say that because i am a bit of a list fanatic


Linda Sandifer said...

Yes, B. J., please do link to it.

Linda Sandifer said...

Avril, you have some very nice visuals on your own blog, both the photos and your descriptions!

Litgirl01 said...

This is VERY helpful! I have been struggling to find a way to draw the reader into the story. As it is, it's like a stage performance and the reader is an observer. Of course it is a first draft (my first novel), and it needs many more layers. I know what my overall vision is, but sometimes I don't know how to go about it. This helps a lot!

Linda Sandifer said...

I'm glad it was helpful, LitGirl. It's easier to write than to explain how to do it.