Writing Tips: The Five Senses

18 Mar

Special thanks goes out to actress, director, and dancer, Gracie Dzienny, for quoting my first novel, November Snow, on her Twitter. She is known for her work on Nickelodeon’s Supah Ninjas and multiple shows on AwesomenessTV. Visit her YouTube channel by clicking here.

Grace

 

nice

“This is a story of forbidden love, hidden love, and a war of love.” Find out why Endless Reading said they can’t wait to read Seconds Before Sunrise in the latest review of Minutes Before Sunset by clicking here.

I wrote this post in a way I don’t normally do so. Below, I ranked the five senses from easiest to hardest in terms of including them into a story – which was a task in itself because I kept questioning my order – and then I choose a random chapter in the middle of two of my novels – Seconds Before Sunrise (SBS) and November Snow (NS) – to tally my use of the senses. So the tallies might seem contradicting because I wrote the post before I collected the tallies to see if my perception was the same as my reality. Then, below that, I have a quote from those of you who commented on my Facebook author page.

Join me on FB, and your responses might be used next!

Join me on FB, and your responses might be used next!

But I want to add one last thing: there are many novels that do not include one or more of these senses for many reasons, mainly novels that cover blindness or deafness. Although those novels are very strong, I am dealing with the average novel that cover all senses in order to explore which senses are the most and least difficult to use so that we can analyze our styles together in order to improve in our five categories. But I want to thank those writers who have written novels with blind, deaf, or other protagonists in those various fields, so thank you.

#1 Sight

I’m not sure many will argue this being the easiest, especially if the novel is in first person. We see from the character’s eyes – and we see a lot. Whether they’re looking at road while driving or searching a library for answers, their eyes are working to keep the story moving forward.

Tally: Since both of my novels are from first perspectives, I decided not to tally this one at all because it’s practically every other sentence.

Paul Davis: “Sight is the easiest by far. I think it’s really easy to forget touch and smell.”

#2 Sound

I decided to forget about dialogue in order to really study this sense in reading and writing. If I included dialogue – just hearing someone speak – then this would probably be like number one, but I thought that was too obvious. However, I am including the way someone’s voice sounds, but I mainly wanted to hear thunder or creaking doors or a television rattling on a stand as a train zooms by an open window. Because of this, I did not include dialogue associated sounds in the tallies.

NS: 11: “Trees brushed against each other to the never-ending music of the crisp, November wind.”

SBS: 6: “…a rush of sounds consumed my senses.”

Alexis Danielle Allinson: The easiest I think is sound as we are taught to familiarize a sound with a distinct description from an early age.

#3 Taste

I think this was the first one I wrote down. For me, taste isn’t necessarily the hardest sense; it’s just the least likely used. A character needs to be eating or kissing or in an accident or a vampire or something along those lines to be reminded of taste.

SBS: 5 “I opened my mouth to speak but spit blood out instead. He wiped it away, but I tasted it.”

NS: 2 “A stream of salty water drove down my cheek to my lips.”

Alexis Danielle Allinson: Taste is the hardest as everyone does this different from each other.

three

#4 Touch

At this point, I have moved the five senses around on my list so many times that I don’t even know if this is where this sense originally started, but alas – this is where it ends up. For me, touch is a debatable and difficult area. Sure, characters can “grab” something, but that doesn’t necessarily make it “touch.” I feel like touch must be how rough a surface is, how cold someone’s skin is, how gravel coats hands with powdery dust. Touch isn’t a verb. Touch has texture or a sensation. 

NS: 13 “My lips were still tingling.”

SBS: 8 “The suffocating air was filled with electricity, and it burned against my exposed flesh.”

Aurélia Evangelaire: And still as a writer, the easiest sense for me to use is touch. I like the feeling of things under hands and I love to describe it.

#5 Smell

Oh, god. This exercise is not easy. At this point, I realize I didn’t know how hard it is to choose which sense goes on what ranking. You think you do until you try. It was really difficult to choose the most difficult, but I finally went with smell because smell, in many ways, is like taste. It’s limited in the sense (haha, see what I did there?) that it’s difficult to include this sense without it seeming forced. It’s often rare moments a character takes the time to “smell the roses.” Just like real people, their lives are hectic – they may even be chased around by enemies – and it’s often the slower, more intimate moments that they have smell. This goes to say that I just had another instance where I realized how the senses change dramatically over genres. I feel like smell, taste, and touch are much easier and more important in romance, especially erotica, but those same senses may not be at the top for things like sci-fi, especially if they are in a space suit that prevents all kinds of smells.

SBS: 11 “The smell of smoke broke through the blood dripping from my nose.”

NS:5 “The rusty smell of whiskey split the air.”

Phillip Peterson Smell, I think, is the easiest and most useful. It’s more of an all-encompassing scent to the scene, which, if done well, can most effectively put the reader into your world (as smell is the most connected to memory).

ts

Those are my five senses as well as a few other writers’ senses.

It was a fun exercise to write down what I thought about the five senses before going through my novel to tally away. In the end, this allowed me to see the difference in my perspective and in reality. (Like how I used smell a lot more than taste.) I definitely recommend writers try this out themselves. I realized quickly that senses change dramatically from novel to novel. For instance, the setting in November Snow is very dirty and dangerous, so sound and touch were actually HUGE. Taste? Not so much. But Seconds Before Sunrise was nearly the opposite. Then again, these were only passages. It would take me weeks to analyze the entire novels, but I still think this is worth it.

You must be tempted by now.

You must be tempted by now.

What about you? Did you try this exercise? Do you have certain senses you use more? Ones that you avoid? Were your results different than what you thought they would be?

Comment below!

P.S. “Look Inside” of Seconds Before Sunrise is now up on Amazon! Check it out by clicking the book cover on the right 😀

~SAT

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17 Responses to “Writing Tips: The Five Senses”

  1. komarovstyle March 18, 2014 at 1:06 am #

    Nice post.

  2. Rebecca Bradley March 18, 2014 at 3:38 am #

    A great reminder about the use of senses which add so much more to a story.

  3. Harliqueen March 18, 2014 at 6:27 am #

    Great post, and a great reminder. I forget about smell all the time! I also got some good advice, (can’t remember where from), that said you should perceive things from the character’s perspective. A rich character who has lived in mansions all the time, wouldn’t necessarily notice the plush carpet under his feet, but a character who had lived poor and never experienced that before would notice it straight away.

    • Shannon A Thompson March 18, 2014 at 2:51 pm #

      I think it’s easy to forget about the array of senses to use (and the many ways to use them!) A character’s perception is really important. I love your example. Thanks for sharing. I always use a “jogger and kite-flyer wouldn’t look at a hill the same way.”
      ~SAT

  4. Charles Yallowitz March 18, 2014 at 6:36 am #

    Excellent post and analysis of the senses. Reminds me that I have the notes for a blind warrior story somewhere in my notebooks.

  5. angieneto March 18, 2014 at 1:14 pm #

    Reblogged this on Phoenix Raines.

    • Shannon A Thompson March 18, 2014 at 2:52 pm #

      Thank you for sharing, Angie!
      ~SAT

      • angieneto March 18, 2014 at 3:23 pm #

        Very welcome Shannon

  6. Val March 18, 2014 at 1:50 pm #

    Very clever, Shannon. You have a nice way of engaging your audience(s)! Even using all five senses, right? : )

  7. heatherbcosta March 18, 2014 at 3:47 pm #

    This is a great exercise and one that I hope to try out very soon. I will be interested to see which of the five senses that i favour most on my writing and whether it tallies up with what I think I use the most.

  8. edlieber March 18, 2014 at 4:23 pm #

    Wow – your blog kicks butt. Mine sucks! And I bet your half my age, and you have already published a novel, while mine is still stuck somewhere inside my cerebral cortex. I think it was fated that you’d be the first to comment on my blog… I am going to follow your career forever; that way, I can say I remember her when she was just a kid!!! All kidding aside, congratulations! This is fantastic!!

    • edlieber March 18, 2014 at 4:24 pm #

      I bet you’ll even catch that damn typo I made in my first reply!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. TV Reviews and Links | Natacha Guyot - March 18, 2014

    […] Writing Tips: The Five Senses by Shannon A. Thompson […]

  2. March Ketchup | Shannon A Thompson - March 30, 2014

    […] Writing Tips: The Five Senses: This post actually got a lot of views, but I spent more time organizing and writing this blog post than the others. I analyze how to include the five senses in a novel, but I also ranked what I and other writers believed to be the easiest to the hardest sense to include. After that, I showed tallies from my own novels to display if my original thoughts were correct or not. I still believe this prompt is a fantastic (yes, time consuming but fantastic) prompt for all writers to try. […]

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