Stimulating the Senses

Lynnette Bonner shows us how to spice up our writing.

One of the best ways to keep readers coming back for more of your stories is to stimulate their senses. We move throughout our day, touching, tasting, smelling, seeing and hearing all sorts of things.

When we sit down to read a book, we want to experience those same sensations but with a dash of excitement sprinkled in.

Sight is the easiest to incorporate in fiction, because we constantly convey what our characters see. Touching is not too hard to bring in. But revealing what our characters are tasting, smelling and hearing can be overlooked if you, the author, have never experienced what your character is experiencing.

It is important to dust (but not smother) your writing with sensory stimuli. Let’s take a scenario and see how incorporating the senses can enhance description.

John and Mary are police officers and they’ve just received a call that the missing child they’ve been searching for might be in the basement of a house on 2nd Street. They are in Mary’s POV.

Before:

John killed the siren as they pulled around the corner onto 2nd street and came to a stop in front of the house.

A surge of adrenaline threatened to close off Mary’s throat and she concentrated on breathing slowly, methodically, as she leapt from the car and dashed through the gate and up the path.

She scanned the small yard. Knee-high grass poked out from between corpulent bags of trash and brown beer bottles. The rusty corpse of what had once been a ford pick-up rested on cinder blocks in the corner, the sagging fence leaning against it.

Around the corner and there should be a set of steps leading down to the basement, the caller had said.

John took the stairs three at a time yelling, “Police! Open up!” just before his feet connected with the door and the lock gave way.

John’s light stabbed into a dark corner illuminating a tottering stack of cardboard boxes intermixed with garbage bags and an old desk that appeared to be missing a leg. She clicked on her own light and shone it into the opposite corner.

There, wide-eyed, hands tied behind her back and duct-tape over her mouth lay AnnaMarie. She was breathing wildly, but alive. Definitely alive.

“Oh thank-you, God!” Mary exclaimed.

Now, the scene with some sound, smell and touch and taste added.

John killed the squawk of the siren as they pealed around the corner onto 2nd street and screeched to a stop in front of the house.

A surge of adrenaline threatened to close off Mary’s throat and she concentrated on breathing slowly, methodically, as she leapt from the car and dashed through the groaning gate and up the path.

The butt of her Beretta firm and familiar against the palm of her hand, she scanned the small yard. Knee-high grass poked out from between corpulent bags of trash and brown beer bottles. The rusty corpse of what had once been a ford pick-up rested on cinder blocks in the corner, the sagging fence leaning against it.

Around the corner and there should be a set of steps leading down to the basement, the caller had said.

John took the stairs three at a time yelling, “Police! Open up!” just before his feet crashed against the door and the lock gave way with a splintered groan.

Musky air draped over her arms, damp and sticky, and the stench of human waste triggered her gag reflex. John’s light stabbed into a dark corner illuminating a tottering stack of cardboard boxes intermixed with garbage bags and an old desk that appeared to be missing a leg. She clicked on her own light and shone it into the opposite corner.

There, wide-eyed, hands tied behind her back and duct-tape over her mouth, lay AnnaMarie. She was breathing wildly, but alive. Definitely alive. The girl whimpered and flinched away from the bright light and Mary quickly averted the beam.

“Oh thank-you, God!” she exclaimed.

Ordinarily, I’d add more dialog and characters, but what do you think? Does sensory input in the second version liven it up? How have you incorporated the senses into your writing?

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This post appeared October 11, 2010, on Author Culture. Reposted by kind permission.

Lynnette writes from the Pacific Northwest, where she lives with her husband and four children. She loves to hear from readers and writers alike. Her first novel, ROCKY MOUNTAIN OASIS, debuted summer 2009.  Lynnette has been a member of NCWA since May of 2008.

Visit her website and her blogs: Writer’s Journey and Author Culture.

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4 thoughts on “Stimulating the Senses

  1. Thanks, Dennis. And thanks Connie for your edits on this. I know you had to make it shorter to fit. Just a quick note – POV stands for Point of View. So the entry should state “they are in Mary’s POV” – it is not a vehicle. 🙂 I know those abbreviations can get confusing!

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  2. This is a great reminder as I work through the first draft of my second novel. I find writing easy but sometimes overlook the “details” of the senses. Thanks, Lynette.

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