Made in America

Writing Exercises: Using the Five Senses

When writing a book, the scenes come to us in such immense detail. We see each one unfolding like movies in our heads- we see every room, object, gesture, and character with microscopic precision. However, writers tend to get so immersed in the action of the scene that we forget one key detail- our readers can’t automatically see what we see. We have to take the time to describe it to them. What do the characters look like? What are their mannerisms? What can they hear, see, and feel in this moment? This helps us not only create drama in the scene but really allows our readers to truly immerse themselves in the story. It’s hard to really feel like you’re there without sensory detail because that’s how we operate in the real world- through touch, taste, smell, sight, and hearing. Ideally, when writing a scene, each of the five senses should be utilized. For writers who struggle with sensory detail, here are a few writing exercises to help:


1) Pick one of your favorite songs. Identify a line in the song and the main emotion behind the line. Write about a character who is experiencing that emotion and hears that song. Or a character who is going through an experience that is paralleled by the song lyrics. Try to describe the type of music and the sounds in such a beautiful way that you will make the reader experience the emotion behind the song.

2) Select a dish representative of a cuisine that your character had as a child. Have the character describe it in such detail that the reader salivates and personal details of your character’s childhood are also revealed.


3) A man is cooking for a woman on their third date. Have the woman describe the aromas of the food in such loving and extended detail that she realizes that she’s in love with the man (Hint: She doesn’t love him because of the food- the food is just a way of showing it).

4) Have a character dine at a blind restaurant- a restaurant in pitch blackness where all the servers are blind. Describe how the table, clothing, plates, food, and the hand of their dining partner feels different in the darkness.

5) Have your character walking down the street and see a specific sight- a building, a park, a tree, a person, etc. and experience a moment of extreme deja vu. Have your character describe what they’re looking at in extreme detail while slowly revealing the memory with which they associate the sight.


6) One of the best exercises for the five senses is to choose one word and to describe it using the five senses. Obviously, each of the five sense won’t be able to be literally applied to the word- this is where you need to use your imagination. Using each of the five senses, for example, describe moonlight. What does it look like? Smell like? Taste like? Sound like? Feel like? Writers often feel boxed into the idea that sensory details need to be real and tangible, but you can absolutely talk about the taste of moonlight or the touch of a shadow in your book. In fact, that’s where some of the best writing happens.

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