One of the best pieces of advice I’ve received about writing was to remember to keep all the senses on the page. And then show the character’s reactions to those sensory experiences. Not only does using the senses of sight, taste, smell, touch and sound make the scenes more real to the reader, but describing how our hero and heroine react can reveal character as well.
Sight is the most used – and perhaps overused – senses in writing. I find it too easy to use the words look, gaze, saw, eyes, etc., but who can deny their descriptive value? When our hero sees the beautiful heroine and remarks about the sparkle in her eyes or the rich color of her hair, the reader can see what the heroine looks like through the hero’s eyes. But when he catches a glimpse of her firm breasts and his body hardens, the reader understands the hero is attracted to her as well.
Touch is another well-used sense, especially in romances. Silky hair. Smooth skin. The soft brush of his lips against hers. The passion-rough embrace as he pulls her soft body against his hard one. As a reader, I know I live for these descriptions in the stories I read. Because I want to experience them with my characters. When we go into sensual detail, our readers will feel the hero’s calloused hands as he tries to be gentle with our high-born heroine, and they not only vicariously experience the erotic scrape of his fingers along their skin but admire the man all the more for his hard-won restraint.
A baby’s cry. A dog barking in the middle of the night. A soft moan. A wicked chuckle. The wind howling as a storm approaches. Sounds are all around us and can be used in a variety of ways to make our scenes come alive. Our readers can relate to the sounds our characters are hearing and picture the scene more easily in their mind. But here again, how the character reacts to the sound can tell the reader a lot. Is he annoyed by the dog barking? Or alarmed? Is our heroine thrilled by the hero’s wicked chuckle or angry? And don’t forget how the quick mention of ragged breathing or that soft moan can add more detail to a love scene.
Smells often call to memories deeply buried in our subconscious. Adding a scent, odor, aroma, stench to your scenes can quickly put your reader in the middle of the action. Who doesn’t recognize the soft scent of baby powder? The foul odor of garbage? The mouth-watering aroma of warm apple pie? The musky scent of arousal? And remember when you add those details to your scene, do it in your character’s point of view, so we know what that smell says to him.
Taste is probably the least-used sense in writing. I mean, if your characters aren’t eating, what is there to mention, right? How about the salt from her tears? Her strawberry lip gloss when he kisses her? The faint hint of mint when she kisses him? The smoke so thick he can taste it on his tongue? Taste is a bit more of a challenge, but when you can add a detail here and there, it can make your reader feel as if she’s right there. And that’s what we want, isn’t it?
Some of this may seem so elementary, but I often find I have to remind myself to go back and add more sensory detail to my scenes. My first draft of a scene is usually heavy on dialogue and movement, and not much else. So I need to layer in not only the mention of the senses, but the characters reactions to them. To me, it can make all the difference for making the story come alive.
What do you think?