Maximizing the Senses in Your Writing

Veronica Rossi 1 Thursday, July 18, 2013
Nowadays, I'm fortunate enough to be able to critique aspiring writers' work from time to time, for writing conferences or workshops. One of the things I notice frequently is that fledgling writers overlook the five senses. They give you dialogue and they give you visual setting cues. They will plop you in a pine forest and tell you it's beautiful and green.

Do you feel that forest? I don't either. Does it convey an experience or an emotion? No.

But what if these woods smell of the purple lupine fields that are in bloom? What if it's early spring and a cool breeze sweeps down from the snow-capped mountains? You've been hiking steep trails for an hour, so the crisp air feels heavenly on your tired, overheated muscles. The gurgle of a nearby creek relaxes you, only heightening your sense of fulfillment. A hawk wheels in lazy circles high above the treetops.


What if the woods smell of something festering and rotten. Surely there's an animal carcass somewhere? A storm is moving in. Great, dark thunderheads are visible above the pines, and darkness is falling fast--and what are you wearing? Nothing but shorts and a cotton short-sleeved shirt. Nearby, the rush of a waterfall is a constant, pounding roar and your legs shake beneath you, so tired from a three mile uphill sprint, you can barely stand.

So, you see. Two very different lodgepole pine forests. In my author''s mind, they may be the same woods. But in my character's mind, they are wholly different.

We take in the world through our senses. Every single thing your character perceives needs to reflect their emotional state.

As writers, we have something special. Something musicians and filmmakers don't. We can give our audience a fully immersive experience. Words give us that power, and the five senses are among our most effective weapons.

Use them.


I love this! Fantastic post -- thank you for the awesome advice. :)

Amelia | Robinson Writes

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