Coming to your senses: How to use sensory input to enhance your fiction writing

Albert Einstein Senses Quote

Stop. Close your eyes. Breathe. Now, listen.

What do you hear? Listen. Really listen. What are the closest sounds you hear? Conversation? Birdsong? Rainfall? What sounds are further away? Children playing down the street? The hum of traffic?

Now, inhale. What do you smell? Your own perfume? The flowers in the garden? The coffee in your half-full cup? Keep breathing and inhaling. Like sounds, scents have layers. What is underneath the top layer of odour to what lies beneath?

With your eyes still closed, reach out your hands and see what they touch. The smooth surface of glass or your desk? The wool of your jumper?

What is the taste in your mouth? Toothpaste? Coffee? Cigarettes?

Now open your eyes and look at whatever is in front of you. Don’t look to the side. Just focus on the objects immediately in your line of vision. Now close your eyes and picture what you saw, the colours, dimensions, and placement of each thing.

What does all this have to do with writing, you ask. Well, it teaches you something about being ‘in the moment’, something all writers should know.

Now that you have spent a short time using your senses, try to describe each of your observations in words. How do you relate the texture of sounds to a reader? Or the way something feels?

Take it to the next step. Go for a walk and try to make the same observations. When you come home, write about what you saw, felt, tasted, touched. Write about the way rain feels on your face, or wind in your hair. What does chocolate taste like? Describe the sound of running water.

Of course, your senses function differently depending on your emotional state. The way you observe when you are sitting in your living room, relaxed and peaceful, will be very different from a walk in the town with a friend or hike through the countryside when you’re upset. Likewise, a person in love will be hypersensitive to sensory input while a person who is angry blots out almost everything but the object of their anger.

What matters is you make your writing personal to you. Make it real for your reader. And anchor your characters in the real world. One that occasionally smells bad, tastes funny, or, sometimes, blows you away with its grandeur.

Get used to noticing. Get used to turning those observations into words, into pithy, unexpected phrases. Go on. You know it makes sense.



About Geri Schear

Geri Schear is an award-winning novelist, author of three Sherlock Holmes and Lady Beatrice books published by MX Publishing. Her short stories have appeared in a number of journals. For further information, see her page at Amazon:
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