Using the Five Senses

A talented writer is able to grab the hand of a reader and walk her through the pages of the book with ease and effectiveness. The words should fly off the page and penetrate the heart and mind of the reader. How do you create such an intimate relationship between the author and her reader? How do you touch a soul like that? That is the power of words.

Many times, we have watched a cinematic depiction of our favorite book and thought how it was better written than visual. Why is that? It has to do with the ability of the writer to use descriptions, details, and emotions to ignite our imagination and stir feelings within us.

A huge factor that contributes to this is the use of the five senses. We go back to the basic concept we learned in grade school to “show, not tell.” A reader should be able to feel your writing. In the previous post, we discussed how to be observant and better listeners to improve our writing. This is where it comes into play.

For example, instead of saying, “I walked into the hospital and was scared,” use verbiage that will create vivid imagery for the reader. Ask yourself: what smells, feels, sights, sounds and possibly tastes to you experience in a hospital? Here’s a few samples:

-the smell of disinfectants and rubbing alcohol seep into the nose as you walk into the hospital

-the air is colder

-you see neutral colors, staff dressed in scrubs and sick or injured patients

-beeps and alarms of monitors or sounds of people suffering or coughing

So how can we change the above sentence? Let’s incorporate some of these examples that I just mentioned.

“As I walked into the cold hospital, my stomach turned from the odor of disinfectants, and I immediately saw scrubbed doctors and nurses rushing to a patient’s room as the ‘code blue’ alarm buzzed over the intercom. I was scared.”

Notice how this helps create a scene for the reader, waking up various noted senses. Next, let’s focus on the word ‘scared.’ A great way to show, not tell is to use internal and external bodily reactions in your narration. So, consider what happens to the outside of your body when you’re scared versus inside. This is how we can replace the word ‘scared’ by showcasing its effect on the body:

“As I walked into the cold hospital, my stomach turned from the odor of disinfectants, and I immediately saw scrubbed doctors and nurses rushing to a patient’s room as the ‘code blue’ alarm buzzed over the intercom. My heart began to race, and my hands grew cold instantly.”

These are just some simple, yet effective ways to bring depth to your writing. It is a real craft to be able to awaken readers’ emotions and touch your audience at the core, but it is feasible with the right language and translating our senses to our words.

Tayyaba Syed

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