The 5 Senses

Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs
Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs (1937)

In my writing, the 5 senses are a little like Snow White’s 7 dwarfs or the 7 deadly sins – I always forget one. Sight, hearing, touch, taste, and … oh yes, smell. I never have trouble incorporating sight and hearing, since my characters rely on their vision to get around and their hearing to communicate through dialogue. Touch, taste, and smell aren’t as easy, but all are important because most of us use the 5 senses every day. And in our writing, as characters transform into people, we need to be aware of the sensory information our characters get from the fictional world around them.

There are plenty of well-used descriptive words for touch. I open the closest book, scan the page, and see: coarse, soft, bandaged, and gently. And you, Reader, can think of many more, from textures, to sensations, to feelings sparked by the touch of another being – human or animal. The physical ache after a day spent shoveling snow and the feeling of stretching when you wake up in the morning – are these sensations your character feels?

And then there’s taste. Confession – rarely do my characters eat, unless the setting of the story is at a restaurant or the dinner table. And then they’re so on-edge that they don’t have time to taste the food. But my stories would gain rich detail from the food’s taste, from noting the taste of the minerals in the well water, from describing the time the car was leaking something and she put her finger in it and tasted it with the tip of her tongue.

I saved smell for last, because it’s the hardest for me. Rarely do I note smells unless they’re very good (freshly baked bread, drying laundry, popcorn), or very bad (skunk, the burning rubber stench that means someone’s driving with the emergency brake on, the zoo in the first 5 minutes). And since I use my sense of smell the least, smell shows up in my writing rarely or not at all. Don’t make my mistakes! I challenge myself to write a short story which relies heavily on the sense of smell.

And what about you, Reader? How do you use (or not use) the senses in your writing?

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