Posted in descriptive writing, Writing

How To Use The 5 Senses In Creative Writing

The 5 senses are something we all use in everyday life. We use them without realizing it, it just comes naturally to us.

When someone asks us to smell something, we know exactly how to use our nose. When someone tells us to feel something, we know how to touch and how to describe it.

Despite how easy it is to use our senses in real life, it’s sometimes difficult to show off our characters using their senses in our stories.

Sometimes it doesn’t quite fit right into the description and other times we forget to add those subtleties in.

How to use the 5 senses in creative writing

Why do we need to add the 5 senses into our writing?

Adding the senses to your writing allow your readers to be there with your characters. They’ll feel as though they’re part of the story. The details will be painted before them as it breathes life into your characters.

You can easily say, “Charlie smelled the chile and coughed.”

But it’s much better to say, “Charlie leaned over the pot and breathed in deeply through. He recoiled away, the hot spices tickling his nose and throwing him into a coughing fit.”

 

Should we add our 5 senses to every scene?

There is such a thing as too much information. It’s important to corporate the 5 senses into your writing as best as you can, but there are two reasons why you shouldn’t use all 5 all the time or all at once.

1. We don’t use every single sense together at once

For example, as I write this blog post:

  • I’m seeing the bright screen
  • I’m hearing the “whirring” sound inside my laptop
  • I’m hearing my fingers tap against the keys
  • I’m feeling the laptop’s warmth as it sits on my lap
  • I’m feeling the bumps and curves of the keyboard as I type

But I’m not smelling anything coming from my laptop (that wouldn’t be good) and I’m certainly not licking the keyboard.

2. Using them all the time could be overkill

For example, if I were writing this blog post in a coffee shop, I would most definitely see, hear, and feel all the above, plus:

  • I’d see people
  • I’d hear people talking
  • I’d hear the cash register, cups clinking behind the counter, blenders, coffee being made, etc.
  • I’d smell the coffee
  • I’d smell any food
  • I may smell the man sitting behind me with b.o.
  • I’d taste my own coffee and food

Thus, I would be using all five of my senses. Do I have to describe all of that in my writing? Probably not. As long as it’s relevant to the actual story and the plot continues to move forward, you should be good to go.

How do we weave the 5 senses into the story?

Think about how you would describe something. When you sit outside and hear an airplane, do you stop what you’re doing and look up at it? Is the plane so low that the roar is too loud for you to concentrate? When you look up, is it a sunny day that you have to squint your eyes, yet you still see spots?

Which do you like better?

1. “Annie heard a loud noise and looked up. There was a plane flying overhead.”
2. “Annie heard what sounded like constant thunder overhead. She looked up, shielding her eyes with one hand from the bright sun, and noticed an airplane directly above her that seemed to be going in slow motion.”

I don’t know about you, but I liked the second one better. And I didn’t even use all the senses. That only included two senses.

Short and sweet is nice, too.

I know most of my “bad” examples are short and my “good” examples are longer. However, you don’t have to put so much description in all the time.

I know I’m sort of contradicting this post, but sometimes short and sweet is a good way to go.

You could say, “Martha wrinkled her nose in disgust as she caught a whiff of something funky,” If you’re describing the place Martha is. Maybe she walked into an abandoned house and a dead body is lying around somewhere. Either way, you’re setting up the location and could possibly be moving the plot forward.

Or you could say, “Martha sniffed and then pinched her nose,” If she’s walking down the street and caught a whiff of the garbage truck heading for her. It describes her surroundings, but not necessarily driving the plot forward. Unless the garbage truck is going to have something to do with anything.

My point is, you don’t always need a whole lot, even though the 5 senses sounds like it is.

We all have a very different and unique writing style from one another. Some write long, some write short. As long as it fits you, you should be golden.

How do you typically throw in the 5 senses into your writing? Let me know in the comments below!

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Author:

Born and raised in Massachusetts, Rachel Poli is a writer and blogger. She has an associate’s degree in Early Childhood Education and a bachelor’s degree in English Studies. She enjoys writing young adult novels, middle-grade, and children’s picture books. She is currently working on her first novel.

28 thoughts on “How To Use The 5 Senses In Creative Writing

  1. Great post! I didn’t think you contradicted yourself. Brevity is good when writing. But if more words are needed for better description that moves the story on, then so be it. I also think there is something about being aware of WHY we are describing something in the first place. What atmosphere are we wanting to create? What characteristics would it be helpful for us to convey? If the setting is a kitchen, whether we describe fresh flowers in a vase, dead flowers in a vase, a cold, steel blade, roasted peaches hot from the oven… what we choose creates atmosphere and contributes to tone.

    1. All good points! I’m actually reading a book now and there are things that being described way too thoroughly and it brings me out of the story because I have to ask, “Why do I need to know this?” And, in my opinion, I don’t need to know any of it.
      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

  2. This is great! I’ll be saving this to come back to for future 🙂
    I have just started to show some of my work to the public, I enjoy writing short stories and poetry 🙂 I’d love any feedback on any of the stuff I have written so far 🙂
    http://www.theccbytahli.com

  3. Whether or not it’s short and sweet or a bit more meandering, I think depends all on the style of writing and the story, as well as what the writer is trying to convey. Regardless, you gave some very good tips.

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