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Making Sense of Our Senses

The majority of people connect most strongly with visual stimuli. As a writer though, it is our job to make sure we cater to all our readers’ senses to fully immerse them in the world we are creating for them on the page. This requires us to address all of their senses. This article looks at how we can do that.

Sensory Scene Setting

One of the first questions we address when crafting our story is setting. Where is our story going to take place, and where will the scenes in our story play out? Does your story start in a frozen Arctic tundra, move on to the sanguine, steamy heat of South American rainforests, and then finish up in the blazing sun of a barren desert? Perhaps not, but whatever journey you are taking your readers on should reflect the differing locales.

Know Yourself as a Writer

Self-awareness is key to improving any aspect of your writing. It is important to know your own literary idiosyncrasies before you try to make any changes. This article opened with the claim that most people are visual learners. That does not mean you are. Read through your own writing and see how you have described scenes. If your details are mostly visual or auditory, then that’s the way you lean in your learning. Now you need to focus on developing your descriptions using the other senses.

It’s All in the Details

During your prewriting phase, think about your five main senses and then decide which ones will best help you set each scene. Try and think of at least three details for each of the five senses—sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste—that will best place your reader in the story. Then write the scene, including as many specific details as possible. You may decide you don’t need all those details when you edit your work later on, but it is always better to have too much than too little to start with.

A very good tip here is to always try and engage at least three of your readers’ senses in each scene.

Making Sense of Our Senses

Appealing to the senses will help you create your story’s atmosphere. The right words playing off the relevant senses will help you set the mood for your scene. Here are some of the ways you can use each sense to enhance your writing.


As we have already said, most people tend to be visual learners. The majority of your story will be told using visual cues. We then use our other senses to help add further details to our descriptions. Think of your words as your readers’ eyes that allow them to look through the page and into the world you have created within.
Here are a few sight words you might find helpful for creating the right atmosphere:

  • Craggy
  • Billowy
  • Crystalline
  • Globular
  • Obtuse
  • Translucent

Remember the use of color provides powerful visual cues and creates atmosphere through emotional triggers and associations.


Sometimes we are deprived of visual cues. This is probably the scariest situation we can find ourselves in: alone in the dark. So what do you rely on? Your other senses, particularly any sound you can hear to help you piece together some sort of mental image about your surroundings. What am I hearing? Where is it coming from? How far away is it? Is there someone else in here with me? All the elements of a horror story are coming together.

Remember, you can always invent new words to create sounds on paper. Words like whizzing, hoot, and BOO! are called onomatopoeia.

Try to use action words to help convey the intensity or volume of the sound to help set the scene. Are the waves crashing against the rocks or gently lapping at the shore?


Our heroes often find themselves in unusual situations. After all, the whole point of us creating these adventures is to help our readers escape reality. This often means they are touching or coming into physical contact with unusual or repellent objects, things that our readers have probably always tried to avoid touching.

A great way to enhance your description of touch is to focus on the physical reaction it evokes. Your hero’s skin might crawl or become covered in goose bumps; they might faint or feel ill.

The use of adjectives will also help you with your descriptions of touch.

Taste and Smell

These are probably the hardest senses to represent in our writing. The first thing to do is to decide what feeling you want to create in your readers.


Smell, the strongest of all our senses, links us to our past. Use the associations of smell to help describe the conditions under which a scene is taking place. A bad smell in a horror story usually forebodes a gruesome occurrence. The smell of smoke is an indicator of danger.

Here are a few smell words you can use to tap into your readers’ emotional triggers:

  • Acrid
  • Fetidy
  • Aromatic
  • Fragrant
  • Pungent


Try and associate taste with textures. Think about various flavors and see if you can come up with a texture to represent it. This will help our readers appreciate exotic, alien, or repulsive flavors they have never before experienced.

Here are the classifications of taste along with a few words and textures they might be paired with:

  • Bitter: tart / vinegary
  • Salty: briny / brackish
  • Sour: tart / acerbic
  • Sweet: saccharine / syrupy
  • Savory: aromatic / wholesome
  • Metallic: bloody / rusty

Bringing all Five Together and Adding More

Skilled writers will be able to combine all five of these senses to really bring their story to life. The rule of thumb is, the longer your description, the more senses you should engage. You can even try to incorporate more senses, such as our kinesthetic sense and our balance. Our kinesthetic sense is the awareness of our body and the position of our body parts, and our balance relates to our physical stability. These are good senses to tap during fight scenes.

Another two you will have probably already incorporated into your other descriptions but might want to be aware of are our senses of pain and temperature.