The Sixth Sense of "Feel"

This week we're writing about incorporating sensory details into writing, expanding beyond the visual, and finding ways to engage all of the reader's senses.  For me, the best way to incorporate sensory detail is to allow my main character to experience the things that are happening to her, as opposed to merely reporting on them.  And this requires not only immersion in the character's five senses, but also immersion into her thoughts and feelings as she experiences them.

I like to think of the character as having six senses: sight, sound, touch, taste, smell and feel, the emotional response to what's happening. When I first started writing, my scenes were described as "cinematic" because they were extremely visual, like watching a film.  There was plenty of setting and dialogue and physical movements, but the scenes lacked emotion, which made it hard to connect to the characters. I was even given a homework assignment to remove three out of ten physical descriptions and add one emotional reaction in their place.  This exercise really helped me to connect with my main character and add layers to my writing.

As I've gotten more accustomed to incorporating the sense of "feel" into  my writing, I've discovered that when emotional reactions are tied to the five senses, the sensory details are even more powerful, and help me to go deeper into the character's point of view.  In other words, when I infuse the descriptions of what the character is seeing, smelling, touching, tasting or hearing, with how the character feels, I not only get a richer story, but I also start to tap into that elusive thing called "voice."

The key for me is to pick details that are character specific.  To experience what's happening from the unique perspective of that character's world view.  Every person has a unique way of experiencing the world.  To help the reader experience the situation from the character's point of view, it's important to understand what details the character would notice that other might not.

In GOLD, Brianna, a demigoddess, flees to Ireland.  Because Brianna's powers are tied to the elements, the first thing she notices is that the elements feel far more fierce than they ever did in her home in Southern California:

Ireland is magic.  There’s no other way to describe it.  The air is alive, so cold it cuts right through skin and bone, even though it’s supposed to be summer.  Ever present clouds move across the sky, dampening the ground with fat drops of rain that make everything glisten.  The earth smells of loose dirt and something richer.  The elements converge and meld, coming together so fiercely that even a human must feel their power.

I am drunk with it.   

Another character might notice the cold wind and the damp ground, but their reaction to it would change based on their own perspective.  This is where the voice and tone of your character come through.  There are lots of way a character from California might react to the cold Irish summer; the goal is to make the sensory details fit with your character's world view, so that the reader is experiencing the moment as the character does. 

How do you incorporate sensory details and "feel"?


This is a great post for me, because FEEL is one of the things I catch myself forgetting. Not as much emotionally-- but the sense of touch. It's the most sensual of the senses. Cool slippery silk. Rough,sun-warmed rock. Calloused palm sliding through your hair.
Thanks Talia! I'm printing this one for my "remember this" wall!!

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