Using the Five Senses in Description
In my last blog I talked about how important it is to leave some things up to the readers imagination when writing description, but this doesn’t mean that description isn’t important. It’s just as important, in fact.
So how do you go about writing description? I’ve found that the best way to go about it is keeping in mind the five senses while writing. When describing a scene you don’t want to make the mistake of just describing the things your characters are seeing, but at the same time you don’t want a long, drawn out description including all five senses. At the same time, there are ways to keep it short and add in most, if not all of the five senses. You don’t need to write one or two sentences per sense. This short line from “The Green Rider” by Kristen Britain includes what the character is seeing and hearing:
“The courtyard had fallen into shadow and silence, empty of students.”
How cool is that! Brief and vivid.
There’s an in-between that gets easier to find the more you write. Anyways, my main point here is that if you remember to use the five senses, your scenes will be vivid and more realistic.
You want your writing to be as realistic as possible. You want your readers to feel like they are walking beside your characters. Let your readers see the old, dusty, town your character is riding through, taste the dust in the air. Let them feel the horses power beneath the saddle as they ride. Let them hear the chatter in the saloon as they swing off their horse and enter, the clinking of glasses, the slurred speech of their neighbors as they approach the bar, etc...
An exercise that helps me write vivid scenes (keeping in mind the five senses) is thinking about my own experiences with a situation presented in my writing, or a situation that is as similar as possible. I don’t remember what it felt like the first time I lifted off the ground and flew because I’ve never done it before. Very unfortunate. I do, however, have a strange memory of a trampoline and a blanket and vividly recall what it felt like to “fly” on my magic carpet for the first time.
You probably haven’t experienced the wild west (unless you’re a time traveler-take me with you!), so how are you supposed to know what it’s like to enter a saloon? How are you supposed to know the general atmostphere? What the people are like? Well, you have entered a bar right? You’ve interacted with idiots at the counter or at tables and probably know the general feeling of a bar. With a little bit of research on top of that you would be able to write a pretty believable scene taking place in a saloon.
I like examples, so here they are!
“She crawled onto the boat, not as deftly as Ender. He used a paddle to maneuver the slowly toward the center of the private lake. She noticed aloud that he was sun-browned and strong.”
-”Enders Game” by Orson Scott Card
“I do not answer but climb aboard the gorgon’s winglike plank, listening as it creaks closed behind us. The wind catches the wide, translucent sail, and we move away from the tiny island till it is only a spot of green behind us. But the centaur’s raw cry follows me on the breeze, catching my breath in its fist.”
-”Rebel Angels” by Libba Bray
“The moon sat in the sky like a fat silver coin with a halo radiating around it. In one corner of the balcony, a brass telescope sat propped on a tripod, pointed toward the moon. She placed her hands on the balustrade and ran them along the smooth granite craft of Clan D’ Yer.”
-”The Green Rider” by Kristen Britain
“I walked around the hedge to the iron grate. The ammonia smell of bone-tar wafted up from the grate, faint but persistent. I tugged on the grate, and it lifted a few inches before catching on something.”
-”The Name of the Wind” by Patrick Rothfuss
“A gust of wind hit her carrying the sweet scent of cinnamon rolls from the bakery across the street. She could almost taste her grandmothers warm, homemade cinnamon rolls, feel them melt in her mouth. Her stomach grumbled and she picked up the pace.”
-Me, because I could not find an example to save my life!
I want to leave you with a challenge. Write a scene, at least 250 words, with all five senses used in the description throughout. Happy writing!