Friday, August 21, 2020

Details of the FIVE Senses Bring the Reader into the Story

 What pulls you into a story?  The plot, or story line, of course, but what do you know when you first open a book?  If you've read reviews and the jacket copy, you will know something.  The cover should provide a sense of the book, but it's the opening pages that will pull you in. Using the five senses in your writing (touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste) will ground the reader in the setting. 


In my novelette, The Meth House, the main character,  Hattie, a middle-aged woman with her dog, is searching for an old off-the-grid cabin  in the Rockies.

I found a rough path that the vehicle had plowed through, probably following an animal trail. I lost it couple times. Barton scampered hither and yon, wanting off the leash, but I was having none of that. I trudged along for about twenty minutes, enjoying the perfume of the pines, so fragrant in the afternoon sunshine.

Up ahead I spotted an ancient log cabin. The woods were trying to take over, but they hadn’t yet. The cabin’s logs had bleached gray. Closer, I noticed a door, and a little window with no glass, and a big stone slab for a front step. I saw how the utility vehicle, known here in the hills as a UTV had crushed the growth by the front door. Once upon a time, this had been a cozy little dwelling. Now, it stood in near ruins: hole in the roof, deserted and creepy. Vegetation crowding in. No signs of life. Barton got excited and strained at his leash. The dog kept whining. Now I had the wind up.

“What is it, Barton? I asked. Why did I whisper? “Shush!” I said. “Sit!” That’s when I heard a child’s voice calling. The hair on my arms stood straight up, and from my heartbeat, you’d a thought I’d bicycled up Pike’s Peak. I edged closer to the cabin. Barton and I stood on the stone slab. The door was closed, but the voice carried through the gaping window.

“Help! Help me! Help!” Scared, not angry. Sounded like a little girl. 

Can we see the path, and the rambunctious dog?  Smell the pines? Do we see the cabin? Hear the whining dog?   Feel him straining at the leash?  Our senses are on alert.   Then we hear the child's voice calling. Sound. The reader is in a specific setting described in a few short paragraphs.  





In Chased By Death, the reader is meeting Maxine, the main character for the first time.  Note the senses again:  sight, smell, hearing, taste. 

 Maxine pushed the door open to endure an awkward hug. Larry insisted on a table where he could see who walked in.  The squint lines around his eyes were deeper and his face had new hollows. He had lost weight, but instead of looking fit, he seemed gaunt. Even his tan looked sallow, and his bloodshot eyes cried for Visine. Being bronzed was part of the Summer Larry with his sports shirts, neat khakis, and Topsiders without socks. Despite the preppy clothes, Larry looked like hell.

Maxine ordered iced coffee. Larry asked for Jack Daniels. His red-streaked eyes darted around the restaurant, studying the other diners.

Turning to her, he said, “Lookin’ good.”

         He always wanted an elegant wife on his arm, charming and all smiles. She was no longer that woman.

She had expected him to say, ditch those clunky shoes, babe. Now Maxine dressed to please herself. On this steamy late May evening, she wore linen shorts and a silk camp shirt. And Teva sandals.         

Larry didn’t comment on her practical footwear. She didn’t remark on his dyed hair.

“I’m taking off after dinner,” she said, hinting this wouldn’t be a leisurely meal.

 The harsh briny aroma of lobster drifted across their table. Lobster always tasted better than it smelled.

 Touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste. Use the five senses will and your reader will relate to all of them.  She'll feel right there with the characters.


Here are some other authors who will surely have interesting takes on our most interesting topics:


  1. I agree the use of the human five senses pulls the reader into any writing. Everyone intuitively relates to these types of descriptions.

  2. You're so right. It's necessary to engage the reader in the story from the beginning. Save the back-story of the characters and the action for later, gradually letting it become known organically by the reader, when it's needed. But by all means, engage the reader's 5 senses quickly, to immerse them in your world.

  3. Good reminder and examples on the use of the five senses. Thanks, Judith.

  4. Judy, particularly that first excerpt really got me in. I just have to find out about the little child. This is excellent writing, and two perfect illustrations of the point you are making.

  5. I agree. The five senses certainly give stories another dimension.
    Sometimes you can almost smell the pine and feel raindrops or a chill from the gloomy day.

  6. Hi Judith, what an interesting post. Our five senses is the same subject as Skye wrote about, but from a different angle.


Your comments are always welcome!