Involving the Senses
In the preceding section, the sense of smell was conveyed with the words musty and dusty. As you were reading, did you perhaps even smell a hint of it yourself? If not, you can probably think of other times when you've become involved in what you're reading and have actually felt the sensory cues being described in the story. For example: Have you ever been reading a story about a blizzard and felt a chill, despite being seated on your patio during the middle of summer? Or reading about the beach when you were interrupted by the doorbell, and then was momentarily surprised to see snow on the ground when you answered the door? That's the power of the mind.
To a lesser extent, the sense of hearing was also used with the creaking floor, and the sense of sight was used, too. The combination of all of these senses makes the reader feel as if he or she is standing alongside the characters, seeing what happens as the events transpire, which gives a feeling of involvement. Get into the habit of involving the senses in your writing:
Touch: What kind of texture do objects have? Is the chair hard, or soft and plush? Show how the surroundings feel to the characters' physical touch.
Smell: What scents can the characters smell in his or her surroundings? Fresh? Smoky? Sweet? Acrid?
Sight: What kinds of things do the characters see? When describing the surroundings, use visual words that convey the color, shape, and other physical attributes of objects to show the reader what is being seen instead of just telling the reader that something is within sight.
Hearing: What kinds of sounds are being made in the surroundings? If your characters are at the waterfront, can they hear waves lapping against the wharf? Can they hear seagulls calling?
Taste: In books like
Babette's Feastor A Year in Provence, information about how a meal tastes directly relates to the story. Unless it is something that directly relates to the story, you may not want to describe exactly how a meal tastes to the character. Small clues about things that involve the character's taste buds can help draw the reader into the action, however, so use your judgment about whether or not your story needs those details.
Remember, the setting of your scene should be secondary to what's actually transpiring in the story. You use senses to complement your scene, not construct it.
It might be a good idea to make up a small list and tape it to your computer monitor to serve as a reminder to involve the senses in your writing. As you're writing a scene, try to use at least two of the senses to make your reader feel like he or she is participating in the story. The more you can use, the better, but try to avoid forcing it.