Setting the Scene: Utilizing the 5 Senses

As human beings we have been gifted with five main senses of touch, taste, sight, hearing, and smell. We live in a world of color and textures that lift us up and feed our souls. Maybe you’re wondering how this ties into our writing?

While it true that our work is fictional, as authors we do the best we can to make everything authentic. Even if you are a science fiction author, you would spring from elements taken in real life. Comparisons of some sort are required to establish setting and context.

So how we create a rich tapestry that takes our readers from being a spectator to our story to feeling like they are a part of it?  One huge aspect of this is setting. Are you utilizing the five senses in your writing?

Of course, it’s not logical or necessary to include all five senses in each and every scene. You definitely wouldn’t want to rhyme off the attributes as a laundry list of sorts. You will find as you hone your skill you’ll be able to paint a comprehensive scene using a smaller number of words.

For example, your character comes home from work to his wife cooking dinner (it could just as easily be the man). Maybe she’s sauteing onions in a fry pan? Right there you’ve told us what your character is hearing (sizzling...if your character starts to think it’s pasta in the works, your reader’s mind hears boiling water), what it smells like, and it has given us a glimpse of taste (most people know what fried onions taste like).  Boom! 3 senses right off!

Not to mention at the start of this scene you’re going to tell us where the character is--did they enter the kitchen?  What did they see? There is a 4th sense! Now we’d only be missing the sense of touch for this scene.  Maybe he picks up a piece of garlic toast and it crunches in his teeth as he chews it (or you have a better idea). Maybe touch doesn’t fit in with relation to the food, but maybe he takes her in his arms and hugs her soft curves.

The above example includes all 5 senses in the scene.  In reflection, it wasn’t that hard at all.

However, maybe you’re having a hard time immersing yourself into a scene you're writing. Well close your eyes and put yourself there. What does it look like? Smell like? Do you hear the singing of birds or something else? Are you touching anything? Do you feel cold or hot? Does the element of taste factor into the scene?

As you work at perfecting this aspect of setting the scene, you’ll find your stories pop off the page. You will also be able to work your craft knowing what senses belong in a scene and what ones are not necessary. Remember the point is a strong manuscript. Don’t incorporate everything and leave your reader burdened with unnecessary detail.


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