It’s time to get back into the groove with my weekly writer tips! They may not come directly from me every week, but they are tips worth sharing – so hopefully you will appreciate them and find them useful! *wink, wink*
This week I’d like to talk about sensory description. For your book. Because it’s important. Why? Readers use their imagination to direct your story in their head…and in order to do this with the best possible experience, they need to be able to SENSE everything your characters do.
Make sure to experiment with these senses in your story:
- Sight – Probably the most used in writing. What do your characters look like…what does the environment in a particular scene look like? Don’t forget to describe this with restrained flare. Meaning – let your reader use your visual descriptions to help form their own opinion on ‘looks’. Use colors, textures, and three dimensions to make this sense worthy and not boring. A fun experiment with this is to imagine your reader as a color-blind person. HOW would you then describe what a ripe Granny-Smith apple looks like if you can’t use the word ‘green’? Crisp. Clean. Juicy. Go there – it’s worth it.
- Sound – This one is über important. Sound can be subtle or overwhelming. What does your character sound like when he or she speaks, laughs, sighs, cries, shouts, pauses, etc… What does the room your character is standing in sound like? Is it quiet, busy, creepy? Rain water could be dripping off a window sill, echoing through an empty warehouse – this is a sensation your character should notice and something your reader can appreciate. Did a door ‘bang’ shut? Okay…we all know the sound of a banging door, but was this door heavy and solid, making the bang low and loud…or is this door made of glass or screen, making the bang a rattle sound or hollow? I advise against using just the word ‘bang’ to describe a banging sound. Please. I’m begging you. Unless the intent is to make a clear and short point. Also, don’t forget that sound waves travel and can be felt, not just heard. Loud music or the boom of a jet plane flying overhead can vibrate through one’s body – remember this point when describing sounds.
- Taste – Is your character chewing a piece of spearmint gum, swallowing a shot of bourbon, spitting chewing tobacco, swapping spit during a first kiss? Taste is an experience your characters all go through, so let the readers know what’s happening on Jane Doe’s tongue. Imagine a party in your character’s mouth. I think this is one of those senses we don’t see enough in books. Think sharp, tangy, sour, sugary, spicy, gag-inducing. You can have a lot of fun with this. If you lost the ability to taste, what sensations would you miss the most? Use those as descriptors!
- Smell – This goes well with ‘taste’ as the two are often times connected, but they are NOT the same thing. Use this one colorfully. Smells are a powerful sense and can range from minute (just the hint of something lingering in the air) to overpowering (think skunk or the perfume counter at Macy’s). Smells can also trigger memories, so describing what your character is inhaling while standing outside in a rain storm can very well bring back your reader’s childhood when they spent hours on end jumping through puddles.
- Touch – We all know this one and use it often. In fact, I think touch might be one of the most used senses in literature. Is it rough, soft, cold, hot, slimy, hard, etc…? Since this is a popular sense nearly all of us have, be creative with using it in your story. In other words – try not to use the most basic adjectives…have fun with them. Browse through a thesaurus to find a few new words to use in replacement of (or in addition to) the words I listed above. This expands not only your vocabulary as a writer, but your readers’ vocabularies as well.
- 6th Sense – YES you can use this one! Every dog or cat owner has experienced their pet’s wigged out behavior before a storm, an earthquake or the upcoming approach of the mail man that you weren’t even aware was four houses down the street. Use this one in your story to give your readers a sense of what your character is experiencing. Are the hairs standing up on the back of Mick Jr.’s neck as he turns around in a dark hallway to confront the monster? Show your reader what little Micky is feeling – what is he sensing in the dark? Is Tabitha aware that she is not alone as she walks down a poorly lit street but she doesn’t know who or what is stalking her? Show your reader the fear of what Tabitha is sensing with that 6th sense of hers. How does she know she is not alone? How does the environment match her fear? Did the crickets suddenly stop chirping? Are birds bursting out of the tree tops in a startle? Use this one – your readers will love it.
So, now that your mental writer wheels are spinning with ideas, a warning: Do not use all these sense descriptors at once, and don’t overuse one and forget the others. It would be overkill to use every sense in each paragraph – so mix them up. When you edit your first draft, you can spot the places that need more or less sensory description. If you spent half a chapter talking about how things LOOKED, then perhaps you can switch up a sentence or two in each paragraph and add some smell, taste or touch. You want your readers to have an overall experience and feel as if they are right there in the story – and giving each of their senses a jolt, you’ll be able to do exactly that.
Happy Wednesday, everyone!