Making Sense of Senses

The goal of every writer is to pull readers into what’s called the “story world.” You want to write in a way that’s so real that anyone who reads your story feels like they’re right in the middle of it. They know your characters, they understand what the characters are doing (and why), and they want to know what happens next.

What’s one of the best ways to pull your reader into your story world? Details.

Imagine if you went through every day only seeing things in shades of gray. If you couldn’t hear your favorite song. If you couldn’t smell the burgers Dad grills for supper, or taste them when they’re on your plate.

Sound crazy? Maybe for going through everyday life, but that’s exactly how your readers feel if you just tell a basic story and don’t try to take your writing to the next level of “wow.” Just thinking through things and adding a few extra words (details!) can take us from:

The dog ran.


The shaggy black dog ran into the woods.

There’s nothing technically wrong with “the dog ran,” but “the shaggy black dog ran into the woods” tells us a lot more. With only 5 extra words, we learn what the dog looks like (shaggy and black) and where he ran (into the woods). That helps your reader picture the scene a lot better and get pulled deeper into the story.

Remember those 5 senses you learned about years ago? That’s the first place to look for details:

  • Sight
  • Smell
  • Sound
  • Touch
  • Taste

Now, saying you should include all 5 senses doesn’t mean you include something for every sense in every little paragraph. That would be serious sensory overload! Instead, look for ways you can include a few little things to pull your reader in.

My next few posts on writing tips will focus on each of the senses, and how you can work them into your writing. I’ll be using a lot of examples from a novel I read a few months ago, Aurelia by Anne Osterlund. It was the first of her stories I’ve read, and I fell in love with her descriptions. Here’s a sample to get you thinking about how to help readers see the scene (just FYI, Horizon is a horse):

The gray mare stepped with ease onto a narrow dirt trail, and Horizon followed in her footsteps through the sunny stand of white birch, across a speckled meadow of gold and green, and over a sloping hill. At the foot of the hill, a slender creek burbled its way over shiny stones. (Aurelia, pg. 156)

Can’t you see it in your mind (even without the photo I included)? The trail, the trees, the meadow and creek? I’m betting you can. Next time we’ll look at some ways you can do the same for your own readers.

One response

  1. […] For more on including the senses in your writing, check out my posts on sight, smell, and making sense of senses. […]

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