An Example of Sensory Details

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Last time I checked, most readers do not live in a void. They live with their five senses, six if you count thoughts. It is crucial to include these in your story. Below I will go over the senses briefly and then provide examples.

Sense 1: Sight
This one is obvious and very hard not to use. I would recommend focusing on smaller details rather than the obvious to emphasize this. You see a kitchen but indulge on what that means. Like the fork left out from snacking on cake earlier, the coffee pot that is still on, the bag of chips that needs to be closed, the grout that needs to be cleaned, etc.

Sense 2: Hearing
Sounds aren’t just loud things. It can be the fan running in the distance, the sound of the keys on a keyboard typing, the sound of someone sneezing in the background, or being so close to someone you can hear them breathe.

Sense 3: Touch
Basically anything with your skin. Even your bum feels things, like cold chairs or soft couches. Your body feels the heat when near a fire. You can feel inertia when on a roller coaster. It’s not just limited to your fingers and toes!

Sense 4: Taste
Taste is underrated, I think. You can’t really use it often either unless your story follows a food critic. You need to just watch for when there is a chance to explain a taste. Like drinking coffee – what flavor is it? Eating a snack, or a meal, or the taste of gum, or even the taste of iron if they have blood in their mouth.

Sense 5: Smell
The one that is underused, and so powerful. We associate a lot of memory with smell. Have you ever smelled a candle and had nearly a chapter of your life flash by? That’s why smell is critical. When it rains, mention the smell of wet asphalt. When reading a book, mention the smell of paper. When entering a building, mention if it smells fresh or like old wood and cats. When a protagonist is near another, mention the smell of their clothes that smell like fresh linen or a dingy musk, not just cologne.

EXAMPLE: The setting is the protagonist is reading a novel at a coffee shop.

With S1:
I look around and see customers piling in, shaking off their boots to rid of the fresh snow. Some are blowing into their hands. Chicago always did have nasty winters.

 With S1,2:
 I hear the door open with a groan and see customers piling in while shaking off their snowy boots. Some are blowing into their hands. I look to my coffee as the lady next to me answers her phone with an obnoxious, “Heeeey, how are yooou?” I groan, just like the frozen doors. Thankfully the grinding of coffee beans drowned her out, if only for a moment.

With S1,2,3:
I hear the door open with a groan and see customers piling in while shaking off their snowy boots. Some are blowing into their hands, and I mindlessly rub my free hand on my denim jeans. I look at my coffee which was gratefully warming my hand. The lady next to me answers her phone with an obnoxious, “Heeeey, how are yooou?” I groan, just like the frozen doors. Thankfully the grinding of coffee beans drowned her out, if only for a moment.

With S1,2,3,4:
I hear the door open with a groan and see customers piling in while shaking off their snowy boots. Some are blowing into their hands, and I mindlessly rub my free hand on my denim jeans. I look at my coffee which was gratefully warming my hand. I pick up the cardboard cup and take a sip of the cinnamon latte. I love lattes. They are never too hot and have a milky flavor that makes me always drink it too fast.

The lady next to me answers her phone with an obnoxious, “Heeeey, how are yooou?” I groan, just like the frozen doors. Thankfully the grinding of coffee beans drowned her out, if only for a moment.

With S1,2,3,4,5:
I hear the door open with a groan and see customers piling in while shaking off their snowy boots. Some are blowing into their hands, and I mindlessly rub my free hand on my denim jeans. I take in a deep breath and smell the fresh coffee that permeates the entire building. It reminds me of the way bacon seems to fill every nook of my apartment when sizzling on the skillet. I look at my coffee which was gratefully warming my hand. I pick up the cardboard cup, greeted with the smell of plastic before I take a sip of the cinnamon latte. I love lattes. They are never too hot and have a milky flavor that makes me always drink it too fast.

The lady next to me answers her phone with an obnoxious, “Heeeey, how are yooou?” I groan, just like the frozen doors. Thankfully the grinding of coffee beans drowned her out, if only for a moment.

Obviously, you don’t need all five senses, all the time. However, you can see when used appropriately how the five senses blend together to really give an image in the readers head. The difference between books and movies is that books can make you feel, smell and taste things in your mind. Movies can only give you sound and sight.

I won’t drone on, as I think the examples speak for themselves. I hoped this helped and feel free to share it if you’d like!

-Charlotte

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