The Senses

When writing your scenes, don’t forget to use all five senses. It’s so easy to just use the visual. She saw the wind whipping through the trees. Bill saw the car flip and land on its roof, spinning gradually to a stop against the hydrant. But what about the other senses?

She saw the wind whipping through the trees, the leaves rustling madly. It tore at her clothing, pulling her skirt against her legs. She reluctantly took a step forward in response. The air smelled odd as the storm’ intensity built. She tried to remember when last she’d smelled something like it, but the drama in front of her occupied her completely. “Mama!” she cried. “Where are you?”

Now we’ve got sight, sound, touch, and smell involved. Not bad, and the storm feels a little more real.

Bill saw the car flip and land on its roof, spinning gradually to a stop against the hydrant. The grating crash of the metal against the concrete still rang in his ears. He ran to the vehicle and pulled at the doors, one after the other. They wouldn’t open. He pounded on the driver’s window. The man was unconscious. Blood smeared his face. He recognized a familiar smell and sniffed. Gasoline. Quickly he looked around for something he could use to break the window.

Using the different senses brings the scene to life. But now let’s take it even further.


Visual cues are what helps the reader visualize what’s going on in the scene. Your point of view not only provides the the information your reader gets to understand the story, it is the lens through which your reader sees what’s happening. Do your best to place your reader inside, so they see what the character sees, they don’t get told what the character sees.


We all touch things. Depending on our age, touch may be the best way to learn about our surroundings. Sometimes we touch things out of habit or to comfort ourselves. A smooth stone or coin, a soft piece of fabric. We touch the edge of a knife to test for sharpness. Who can resist running their fingers over a piano keyboard? Touch can be practical, it can be comforting, it can be strategic, it can make someone fearful. It can be personal or casual. Use it in your scenes.


Scent can evoke strong memories. It can make one sick. It can be used to differentiate the good guys from the bad guys. Smell can be used to transition a scene as a flashback can be triggered by the smell of lilacs or fresh bread or anything you deem important to your character.


Sound is a great way to create a setting. Who can’t visualize a beach from the sound of waves? What about an airport? A train station? Next time you go to a restaurant. close your eyes and listen. You’ll hear a hum of conversation, the clinking of glasses and silverware, the special language used between cooks and waitstaff. Now do this exercise again at another location. What do you hear that is specific there? These types of details will help you build your scene effectively.


This sense doesn’t always fit in every scene, but when it does, use it. Maybe there’s the metallic taste of blood after the hero gets punched in the mouth, or the lemony flavor of your heroine’s favorite pancake recipe. Taste can also be used to great effect in some scenes. Grief, for instance, can affect how things taste. Can that be used in your story? Perhaps two characters come into conflict or reach a deeper understanding when one tells the truth about how bad the other cooks. Maybe that home-cooked meal that was made with love is the symbol of rejection when the other partner asks for a divorce. See the symbolism and use it.