Shelley Widhalm

Posts Tagged ‘Using the Senses’

Writing with the Senses

In 52 Writing Topics, Shelley Widhalm, Uncategorized, Writing on August 12, 2012 at 11:00 am

Writing that uses the senses is easy to read and hard to write.

What is hard, I find, is using words in such a way that the reader can see, smell, taste, hear or feel what you are describing.

When using sensory writing, let the reader experience things, rather than telling them what they should be sensing.

For instance, instead of saying the wine smells fruity, the writer could say it has a light, crisp aroma with a hint of spice riding alongside the sweet dip of cherry.

Or, a bird sings could become the plump house sparrow chatters a high-pitched melody of wonder as it pecks for bread crumbs.

Use concrete details and specific nouns and verbs. Say, chokecherry tree instead of tree, or hot green tea instead of a drink.

Avoid using adjectives, such as the pretty girl or the cute dog.

And do not rely only on sight, the most immediate sense that is the easiest to use.

Engage all five senses, those of sight, sound, smell, taste and touch, writing down your individual sense impressions.

To do this, notice and observe and get deeper into the subject, paying attention to the smallest details in your environment.

Ask what sounds you hear, what colors you see and what the air feels like as it rubs against your skin.

Find that one detail or cluster of details that makes reader see all of the others.

Writing with the senses in mind makes the words come alive, giving a clear image of the character’s environment and what he or she is experiencing. Think of the character’s dominant sense. Does she love to touch fabrics? Does he like smelling a campfire?

Know when to use descriptive scenes, or how to show the reader what is happening right now, and when to use narration, or to tell.

Finally, try to feel what you are writing, putting all of yourself into your words.

See Zoey’s blog, Zoey’s Paw, at

Adding 3D to Descriptions

In Shelley Widhalm, Writing on February 19, 2012 at 7:41 pm

The plot and character sketches provide the skeleton of a story, while description adds the muscle that makes that skeleton move.

Description carries the story along through the use of the senses, bringing life to what happens along the storyline.

But description can be overdone like eating too much, so that eventually the muscle loses battle against the fat.

There are a few ways description falls flat, such as:

  • Using adverbs, which weaken writing when they are not specific. Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives or other adverbs. Saying that your character slowly walked across the room (here “slowly” modifies walked) does not give the reader as good of a mental picture as: “She shuffled to her bed, falling into it after working 12 hours.”
  • Writing in the passive voice, using “he was,” “they were” and the like. The passive voice slows down the action, while distancing the reader from what’s being said.
  • Using general words, instead of concrete details and specific nouns and verbs. Tree and bird are general nouns, as opposed to a birch oak or maple and a cardinal or robin.

Verbs are important in description, much less so than adjectives, which qualify a noun or noun phrase to provide more information about the object being described. The river spit onto the rocks is more descriptive than the bubbling river.

Adjectives, when used, should be kept simple.

Description is what fills the pages of a story. To keep readers interested, choose words carefully, making sure every word has a purpose. That purpose can be establishing setting, developing character or moving the plot forward.

Use the senses, touching, tasting, smelling and hearing (sight is obvious), to let the reader experience what you are describing.