Today, we’re discussing how to use sensory details in writing, and why they are important.
This is a great transition from our immersive setting post because these two topics overlap a lot.
And that’s a good thing!
By doing one, you could be automatically achieving the other. That happens often in writing. But hey, better for us!
Now, what do we mean by ‘sensory details’?
I don’t know about you, but I’ve read dozens of books that just… don’t pull me in. Even more, I’ll completely forget massive parts of the story. I know I’m not the only one!
However, there are dozens of books I will never forget, some that I’ll even re-read! When I consider why, 9 times out of 10 it’s a result of the sensory details that hit home. Even if I wasn’t in love with a book, if the sensory elements were excellent it’ll always stick with me! That’s powerful!
Here’s a great quote from a Huffington Post article talking about the 5 senses and sales.
“We experience life through our 5 senses. Life is full of sights, smells, touch, tastes, and sounds that we unconsciously connect with emotion. If an experience touches multiple senses, the stronger the memory that is created and the more likely we are to recall that which gave us the experience (positive or negative).”
Don’t think your writing is so separate from sales! In a different, yet equally creative way, you are marketing your story to readers even as they read it. With every line, your job is to convince them to stick around. They need to invest in the plot, connect with the characters, and wait for the next story.
Think of it as ‘selling an experience’.
So how do you ‘sell’ this experience?
There are several ways to sell your creative experience, and luckily, we’ll be plucking through them all.
Today, let’s talk about sensory details.
“Sensory details include sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste. Writers employ the five senses to engage a reader’s interest. If you want your writing to jump off the page, then bring your reader into the world you are creating. When describing a past event, try and remember what you saw, heard, touched, smelled, and tasted, then incorporate that into your writing.”
So how do you make your reader invest? Make them a part of the story.
You can do that with sensory details because they are intrinsically human. The bright glare of morning sun in the eyes, the taste of salt, the feel of fur brushing against skin… all of these details connect your reader’s human experience to the constructed experience on the pages, allowing them to take part in the world you create.
Let’s get going!
Sight shows you the physical details of your story. Visual descriptions are awesome to use in the flow of your narrative and work wonders as first impression elements. Visual elements show your reader what is most important to notice, and gives insight into what your characters notice as well.
- The man had flowing brown hair and overgrown stubble
- His chocolate eyes turn caramel in the sun
- When he walks, he has a slight limp in his left leg but tries to hide it
Smell is an excellent way to settle the story into its environment. The beach will smell of salt, sunscreen, and hot seaweed, while a restaurant will have the rich scents of food filling the room. Scent lets your reader experience the story in a very evocative way. Fill the picture in their brain with real sensory details, and you’ll pull them right in!
- Freshly ground coffee
- An orange split open, filling the air with a citrus spray
- A foggy bathroom smelling of warm soap and lavender
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Again, this is a massive way to connect with your reader’s mind and put them in sync with your narrative. Chances are, your reader has eaten, right? A safe bet, if you ask me!
Taste probably won’t be as prevalent, but don’t underestimate the power. A person sees and observes much more than they eat or taste, but all that means is there must be a balance. Of course, this is not a rule set in stone. It all depends on your narrative!
- The snap of a crisp apple, and the sweetness that comes after.
- The bite of harsh salt
- A tongue coated in rich grease from a thick steak
Okay. I’m hungry.
I love using touch as a sensory grounder. Just like any other story, it can be easy to get lost in the flow of the narrative and forget about sensory details.
Think of it as checking in with the reality of your story. Every once in a while, drop a grounding element.
Having your character scrape the ground with a boot, or pick at the hem of their tattered sleeve will keep the narrative and by default, the reader, in tune. It’ll also let readers sink into the story naturally.
Of course, you can do this with any of the sensory details. But in my opinion, touch is the easiest and most effective route for narrative grounding.
- Picking gravel out of a raw cut on your arm
- Feeling chalk scrape across the chalkboard, and the powder it leaves behind on your fingers
- The cold dusting of fresh snow across your face as it flurries down
Auditory details are fabulously useful, particularly with mood setting. Auditory elements are atmospheric, which means they evoke an environment. And when you forge a strong environment, your reader will instantly fall into the sphere of your story.
- The jungle buzzed and chirruped with insects as the sunset
- The cacophony of voices grew to a deafening roar in the overcrowded lobby
- Rain pattered softly on the window as wind whistled through the cracks like a wailing spirit
Remember the quote at the top? Give a sensory experience readers can connect to emotionally. It’ll pull them in, and ensure your words will make an impact.
So pump your story full of these sensory details! You readers will be begging for more!
Congratulations! You are now one step closer to knowing how to write a story full of awesome sensory details! Want the next step for free?
I’m giving you a *free copy* of The Ultimate Descriptive Language Cheat Sheet! This library of colorful descriptive words will give you hundreds of emotive & sensory descriptors guaranteed to pull your reader right in, and elevate your narrative! Enjoy, and thanks for reading!
Want more info on setting?
Read next: How to Craft an Immersive Setting