Thursday, April 05, 2007

The Five Senses.

Sight, smell, taste, touch, sound—we experience them every moment of every day with some notable exceptions (D/deaf, blind, etc.) And our characters experience them too.

But, do your readers?

We type in two dimensions (height and width), but we need to write in four (height, width, depth and time). Within those four dimensions, we have all five senses.

All writers have comfort zones when it comes to writing the senses. My major comfort zone is sight. If I’m not careful, I’ll give my readers a whole lot of visuals and very little everything else. Taste and smell are my most difficult areas.

When I think about describing a taste or a smell, how do you do that? How do you really show your readers the sweet smell of honeysuckle on the breeze? Or the warm robust aroma of a cup of coffee? Or perhaps it’s a rancid scent of death or the salty taste of a lover’s skin.

What’s helped me is when I take a sip of my coffee, I take a note of how it tastes. A long hard mental note.


The aroma of the chocolate flavored coffee hit her nose before the liquid touched her lips. Although the coffee had turned tepid, the scent still hinted at warmth. Whatever the manufacturer used to for chocolate flavoring, reminded her of a distant Hershey bar. The smell, overlaid with sweet, carried an undercurrent of bitterness.

The tan nectar of life flowed over her lips and flooded her tongue. The acidic bite of the mid-grade coffee tingled upon her tongue and the lingering sweetness made her wonder if she added too much sugar to this cup.

Hmm…better, but still needs a bit of work. I got a little purple there for a moment.

Regardless of the type of scene, all four senses are engaged with our characters and, consequently, all four senses need to be engaged with the reader. Anything short of that, and you’re cheating your reader. They key to writing with all four senses is observing with all four of them.

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