In order to bring your story to life, you should provide as many sensory details as possible. This is another part of the “showing” versus “telling” issue.

The Five Senses (The physiological ways in which we perceive something.)

  1. Sight: How we see something and perceive it via a reaction between the eyes and the brain.
  2. Sound: How we hear something and perceive it audibly by vibrations in the eardrum.
  3. Taste: How we taste something and perceive it in a chemical reaction on the taste buds using one of the four types of tastes: sweet, salt, sour, and bitter.
  4. Smell: How we smell something and perceive it in a chemical reaction using olfactory receptors.
  5. Touch: How we touch something and perceive it using the neural receptors in the skin, hair follicles, tongue, throat, and mucosa.

Using the senses in writing

  1. Sight: What something looks like, where it is located, and how the character “sees” it.
  2. Sound: What a character hears in a scene, from a single sound to a cacophony of sounds.
  3. Taste: What a character experiences through eating or a memory of eating something. This is seldom used in all scenes.
  4. Smell: What a character smells in a scene. Often the sense of smell and taste are together.
  5. Touch: What textures a character feels in a scene.

Tips on when to use sensory details

  1. Use only the particular sensory details that are important to bring a scene to life for the reader.
  2. Sight is the most needed sensory description.
  3. Sound is the second most needed sensory description.
  4. It is not necessary to use all five senses in describing a scene. Too much description will slow down the reading and lose the reader’s interest.

Other descriptive details to engage the reader

  1. Movement: Animals, including humans, depend on reactions to movement around them.  A reader’s attention is snagged when movement is incorporated into a scene. Example: The butterfly fluttered through the rose garden.
  2. Color: Using specific descriptions of color can help the reader “see” whatever is described better. Example: The blood red rose drew her attention.
  3. Similes: Using two unlike things in a comparison to describe something. Example: She defended her child like a lioness defending her cub.
  4. Metaphors: Describing a person or object by referring to something with similar characteristics to the person or object being described. Example: The city is a jungle.

Links to good sensory detail descriptions

The Bookshelf Muse:

An excellent list for descriptions of settings using the five senses, with lists of emotional descriptions as well.

Descriptive Words:

A good list of different descriptive words for sound, touch and texture, color and visual

qualities, smell, pattern and shape.

© 2010 Starla Kaye

The Smarts Button

This website is the work of Starla Criser, an author who has published more than 50 stories, both traditionally and through self-publishing routes.