How to Use Your Senses (Part 1)

How to Use Your Senses

Part 1man is preparing for written work

Writing Exercise


Most of us will immediately default to describing how something looks. Of course, it is necessary to give our readers a visual when we paint a picture of whatever we are describing whether that be a person, place or thing. However, limiting oneself to a visual perspective of your ancestor, place or object provides us with a one-dimensional view.

You also need to describe how the ancestor, place or object will sound, taste, smell and feel to the touch. You don’t need to arouse every single sense with everything you describe. That would be too much. But it’s about realizing that describing things in a different way can provide an opportunity for more  powerful writing.

The picture you intend to paint with your descriptive writing should bring your writing to life. Therefore, is should also be about how things sound, smell, taste, and touch.

Great description engages all of the senses.

Here is a look at an ancestor description from a visual viewpoint

  • Her curly brown hair
  • The freckles that dotted the cheeks of her creamy skin
  • Her painted nails
  • Her starched white shirt.

These are perfectly fine descriptions except that they engage only the sense of sight creating one-dimensional writing that can become boring and tedious.

Here are some other ways I could describe an ancestor.

  • A whiff of lavender lingered after she passed. (smell)
  • Her lips tasted sweet like strawberries (taste)
  • Her voice was raspy and captive. (sound)
  • Her hands were callous and rough (touch)

The same applies to describing your story setting or an object. These descriptions all appeal to the sense of sight.

  • The tall trees stretched to the sky
  • The white capped mountains looked like frosted cupcakes
  • The sea is the as blue as the sky, making it hard to tell where one ends, and the other begins.
  • The sand glistened in the sun

Now let’s look at our other senses.

  • Wet pine filled the air after the afternoon rain. (smell)
  • A faint taste of salt from the breeze landed on my lips. (taste)
  • The whisper of the wind through trees (sound).
  • The wet and slimy rocks (touch).

Evoking all of the senses in a passage of descriptive writing is a simple way of making your description multi-dimensional. And you know what? It doesn’t take a lot of extra work.

(Tomorrow, in part 2, we examine each of the five senses.)

5 Senses Exercise

Write a description of your surroundings. Pay attention not only to what you see but to what you smell, hear, feel, etc. Write for 10 minutes. In that time, you might choose to capture everything around you on the page or to focus on just one aspect of your surroundings. Either way, go deep. Help us feel what it’s like to be where you are at the moment of your writing.