Using all five senses in writing

I'm busily writing Book 3 of "Welcome to the Apocalypse". I thought I'd give a quick writing tips update because this is foremost on my mind during the first draft stage.

Use all 5 senses when writing.  
Often we just use a character's eyes to see the world, because that's how we're trying to get the reader to see this world. But we can plunge a reader into the world with our other senses too.

See/Saw: This is the most common way to writers to show their world. We're often asked to describe things and we automatically think of the visual description. But there are other ways to describe something.

Smell: This sense can be a useful way of evoking memories or emotions. Smells are something that the mind cannot retain, but a smell can make the brain recall a time and place like nothing else.

Touch: We are tactic creatures. We like to feel surfaces. Unless we're germ phobic, then we won't want to touch something that someone else has. Or if we're autistic we won't like to be touched. This can be a useful tool to describe character traits.

Taste: Have you ever tasted a snowflake? It's weird and whimsical. Have you ever tasted (accidentally I'm sure) ash from a fire or cigarette. It's awful. But what a way to describe something for the first time.

Hear: Sounds can be pleasant or painful. We hear sounds all the time. We learn to identify people through their voices. Music can soothe us, birds can lift our spirits, but sounds can also drive us crazy - a ticking clock, snoring, people slurping or chewing.

The trick with using all five senses in writing is to not use the words Look, Smell, Touch, Taste, or Heard.

Why not? Because these five words are telling words. They're telling our readers what the character is doing.

1. He saw the woman on the bridge.
Other words to use include: gazed, spied, glanced, stared, glared.

2. The air smelled of smoke.
Other words to use include: aroma, perfume, stench.

3. She touched the fabric.
Other words to use include: grabbed, rubbed, stroked, caressed, twisted, crushed.

4. The ice cream tasted unusual.
Other words to use include flavour, tang.

5. She heard a scream.
Other words to use include: audible, pierced the air, echoed, rocked.

However, just replacing the word for another is not enough to truly convey description. It's a good place to start. Replace that word. Replace it with something stronger. Turn the sentence on its head and re-write it altogether. I call this transitioning.

Your writing exercise for today is to find the simple sentences in your manuscript and re-write them by going through a series of transitions. I'll give you examples of a transition from a simple sentence to something more descriptive.

Note that where you stop this transition depends on the pace and position within the paragraph of this particular sentence.

He saw the woman on the bridge.
He stared at the woman on the bridge.
He was captivated by the woman on the bridge.
Spying the woman on the bridge, his body tensed and instinct forced his head down to avoid catching her attention.

The air smelled of smoke.
The stench of smoke invaded his nostrils.
Tendrils of pungent smoke invaded his nostrils.
Tendrils of pungent smoke invaded his nostrils and dragged him down into a dangerous slumber.

She touched the fabric.
She stroked the fabric.
A shaky hand stroked the fabric.
Stroking the fabric, its silky texture slipping through her fingers, brought memories of sitting beside her mother to the surface.

The ice cream tasted unusual.
She bit into the ice cream, immediately wishing to spit it out.
Space food that ought to have been left on Mars was the only way to describe the awful flavour of the ice cream.

She heard a scream .
A scream pierced the air, louder than the music.
A single scream, out of tune to the music, pierced the air and caused everyone on the dance floor to miss a beat.

These are just some examples. You can do better of course. Enjoy!


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