Writing Through the Senses

I always find it amusing to contrast the experience of going out for dinner with a group of visually impaired people and a group of people with full sight. The visually impaired people always have something to say about the background music in the restaurant. But if I were to comment on the music to a sighted group, they’d say, ‘What music?’ They’d be too busy checking out the fashions on the other side of the room.

The world is run on sight. But it’s as if sight creates a glare that blocks out the other senses. And if you’re going to succeed as a writer, you need to move beyond your sight and tap into your four other senses and use those senses to draw readers into your world. Stories that draw on all five senses have a rich texture and come alive in the readers’ minds.

As a writer, it’s vital to see the world using more than just your eyes. You need to experience it through your nose, your ears, your hands and your tongue, even through your skin. Thinking about the music your characters like, their favourite food and smells that transport them to their childhood will bring them to life, make them human.

There are exercises you can do to get your senses working.

1. Eat an Orange

Oranges are a feast for the senses, with their vivid colour and their bittersweet aroma and taste. They can also be very symbolic; in Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris, oranges are used in an act of betrayal. Just take an orange, eat it and describe the experience. It’s bound to provoke a strong reaction.

 

 


  1. Soak Up the Sounds

If you’re alone in a cafe, instead of rubbernecking to see what everyone’s wearing, why not just listen instead and take note of five sounds and describe them. If you listen hard, you’ll even hear small, subtle sounds through the clatter of cups. It’s a way of training your ear.

  1. Precious Object

The senses are strongly linked to the emotions. Hold an object that’s precious to you in your hand. Examine it from every angle, test it for its weight. Then describe it and use that description as a springboard to describe the emotions and memories associated with it.

Your senses are a gateway into your story. Close your eyes and let yourself be drawn into a world of wonders.

 

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5 thoughts on “Writing Through the Senses

  1. Hi Derbhile,

    Seriously enlightening advice. I can honestly say that I quite often become “blinded” by my sight when I write.

    It’s interesting to consider and toy with fine-tuning our other senses when we write. I recall a recent TED video that advised those desiring to become better listeners to regularly pause when out and about, especially in a busy environment, and identify all of the sounds that they could hear.

    Sometimes we all can become quite blinded by how we perceive the world, as opposed to becoming open to the vast ways the world can be perceived.

    Thanks so much for this incredibly valuable reminder.

    Take Care,

    -David

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