Thursday, March 31, 2011

How Does Your Story Taste?

One of the most important things that I learned in honing my writing, especially when using first person, is to include sensory perceptions. It makes your characters leap off the page and plunges the reader into their world. Without them, its like watching a movie. You can see whats happening on the screen, but you're missing that extra element.

When I'm writing a scene, once I've got all the action and dialog down, I like to go back through it again and keep the five senses in mind. Sight, taste, touch, smell, sound. Now for every scene, you might not need all five senses, but two or three can help draw your reader in to help them experience the scene with you.

For example:

I ran across the beach, the wind whipping my hair across my face as I raced for the ocean. I waded out into the water, not caring about ruining my clothes. A wave knocked me back and filled my chest with water.

Not really very exciting...

So maybe something more like this:

Seagulls screamed overhead as I raced across the beach, my feet sinking into the hot sand. Salty ocean air whipped my hair across my face. The icy water crashed against my legs and soaked into my expensive cocktail dress. My skin numbed as the water rose over my stomach. The air punched from my chest as a wave knocked me back and filled my lungs with water. The saltiness was heavy on my tongue and burned my nose.

I don't know about you, but I prefer reading books where I can be swept away, where I completely forget about the world around me and get lost in the fictional world. What's important to remember, at least for me, is to not bog your readers down with too many details. pick one or two important ones, just enough to give the readers a taste, and then let the reader's imagination get to work.

What about you? Do you prefer bare-bones writing, where you, the reader, plug in all of the details? Or do you prefer reading novels with more description, more sensory details? Somewhere in-between?


On a side note, if you're interested, don't forget to enter my Twitter Pitch contest for a full manuscript request from Suzie Townsend going on on my blog! The critique portion starts tomorrow, and the final entries posted on April 3rd! Click here for details!


  Shelley Watters writes romance for young adults and adults. She lives in Arizona with her husband, two kids and two dogs. She loves listening to music, reading good books and letting her imagination go wild as she creates new worlds and torments her characters in delicious ways. She is an active member of the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. She is represented by Mark McVeigh of the McVeigh Agency.


  1. Great post! Always good to remember your senses. I am a bare-bones writer, but I do try and get a few senses as often as I can, I know I'll have to add more ;o)

  2. I'm a bare bones writer, too. But those sensory details really make a difference!

  3. I tend not to include as many sensory details because for me it's all about the emotions... However, when I go back to revise, I pay more attention to sensory detail... Thanks for the reminder!

  4. I'd take it a step further:

    "The ringing of the seagulls' cries faded as I raced across the beach. The sand ingrained itself into the small places between my toes and embedded into my scalp when the wind thrashed my hair. Tiny bumps raised up on my legs as I hit the water, but I couldn't feel them anyway. The cold numbness of the ocean lapped it's way up my body until I heard the small whoosh of air as it left my lungs. Where was the sound of the waves? I didn't have time to ponder that thought before the water rose over my head and punched me down, it's saltiness digging into my mouth and around my eyes. In silence I burned. I was numb and I burned."

    Onomatopoeias are your friends. They really help to give your sensory details the oomph they need.

  5. *Bows to the master* Love it Cass. :)

  6. I'm so bad about getting the sensors in my stories. Wonderful descriptions Shelley and Cass. I'll have to work on that in my writing. Great post! :D