I will thank the Lord with all my heart as I meet with his godly people. How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! All who delight in him should ponder them. Psalm 111:1-2 NLT

Monday, November 14, 2011

The 5 Senses - Do you use them all?

I read in a devotional by Robert Schuller the following:
Thank You, Father, for the beautiful surprises you are planning for me today. So often in my life an unexpected burst of golden sunshine exploded through a black cloud, sending inspiring shafts of warm, beautiful sunshine into my life.

After reading his devotion, I stepped out into the cool night air and turned on my senses, letting God pour his universe into me. The night sky, a blanket of stars, too numerous for me to count sparked down on me. The scent of sage drifted on the night breeze kissing my cheek. The coyotes yipped in the distance as they made their nightly rounds. The taste of peace touched my tongue as I sang out a song to our Lord.

This is the season of Thanksgiving. And if there is one thing I’m thankful for it is the gift of our senses that God has given us. It surprises me daily.

When I use to walk through my gardens in Ohio the scents I inhaled amazed me. The smell of damp loam, the sweet fragrance of a rose, or the spicy aroma of Monarda, tantalized my senses. Now in Nevada, the scent of sage is all around me.

Equally stunning and surprising are the variety of colors I see—the bright red of Pointsettias, the azure blue of a cloudless summer day, or the bright green of new leaves in the spring.

I’m sure you don’t want me to continue my litany. But as writers it is something that pulls in a reaction from our readers. What do you think of when you smell homemade bread? Is it comforting to you? Do you cringe when you hear the screech of tires on asphalt? What do you feel when your fingers caress the softness of babies skin? Is it longing or do you drift into memories of when your children were young?

I thought when I started writing this blog a couple of weeks ago that it would be foolish. Don’t all writers do this? I looked.

They don’t.

Even some of the bestsellers forget to use all of the five senses. So I challenge you to picture yourself in a scene, close your eyes and ask yourself: What do I smell? What can I touch and how does feel? Is it smooth, cold, or soft? Don’t forget sounds you may hear in the scene or in the distance. What little detail can you surprise the reader with? Or create a sense of dejavu? How does it taste? That one is almost always missing.

When you look at your writing style, do you use all of them in a scene? If not, what sense do you usually forget?

Jennie Atkins


  1. I'm in the midst of NaNoWriMo and I know how badly I leave out most of the sense, especially in my lousy first draft. Sight--got it. Maybe sound. But the other three: hearing, taste, touch. I usually skip those. I have to force myself to think "What would my character hear? What would he taste? Touch?" And then I go back and weave it all in -- later.
    It just don't come easy.

  2. I try to incorporate the 5 senses, but the one I seem to leave out the most is taste. The 5 senses help define the storyworld too.

    We don't have sage in my corner of the world, so I knew you had to be talking about the western side of the country. Lovely.

  3. Touch is probably the hardest for me to remember to put in. And taste. Great post, Jennie!

  4. Very nice, Jennie. You can extend your helpful litany any time you want & you'll only be giving us more to enjoy.

  5. I struggle with adding sensory details to my story world, especially taste and smell. In my lousy rough drafts, people mostly just talk a lot. :-) Thanks for the reminder with your lovely post. I could almost smell the sage.

  6. Jennie, what a practical post. :) Your world came alive to me as I read your post. I love adding things to my storyworld. I can clearly see where my character's are. I can usually hear and smell the places too. The taste sense is the toughest for me to incorporate. With my NaNo draft this month, I'm not too worried about senses. But I'm eager to go back and "feel" the scene and add those senses.

    I especially liked this idea from your post: "What little detail can you surprise the reader with? Or create a sense of dejavu?"

    Thanks, Jennie!

  7. Great post, Jennie! Usually in my first drafts, I only end up with a couple senses...but in revisions, I do exactly as you suggested: I pause and ask myself what I'm tasting, feeling, seeing, etc. Like Lisa said, taste can be tough. But in one of Susie's emotional layering exercises, she once talked about the taste of emotions...and that has really helped me incorporate taste. For instance, in my current story, my male reporter "tastes" the spicy-ness of a good story.

  8. Beth,
    I have to agree that it is tough putting them all in. That is probably why I found so many of the senses lacking in the books I checked out! Thanks!

  9. Lisa,
    Yes, the sage is all around. After a rain (remember they are few and far between), it smells heavenly!

  10. I sometimes have a little post-it note with the five senses listed by the side of my computer as I write a scene. Or if I plan the scene ahead, I write down verbs and nouns that would involve the senses during this scene before I begin writing. It's a great help to remind me as I do the writing.