Confessional Classic: Sensory Underload

This article originally posted in March of this year. 

Have you ever found yourself writing a scene that feels flat? You know the scene is too important to edit out, but you just can’t seem to make it real.

I have.

In situations like that, I try to see how many of senses were engaged in the scene. In most cases only one, at most two, senses are employed. Sight and sound (if you include dialog). Since these are the two we use the most in our lives, that would make sense.

The other three are just as important. The swirling cream and caramel color of your coffee can be more impactful when you describe the aroma that seems to inflate your body as you inhale the bold, rich scent. It might be a cow-printed ceramic cup, but it could be better to describe how it feels to hold the smooth ceramic in your hands. The heat of the cup could bite into your skin, chasing away blue knuckles and aching muscles from shoveling snow. Maybe you could barely keep yourself from slurping at it, the bitter-sweet liquid coating your tongue.

Using all five of our senses in your writing helps bring the world you’re trying to tell about to life. You don’t have to over do it, but it’s far too easy to under do it.

Here’s an exercise for you to try. Write five paragraphs. In each paragraph focus on one of your five senses. Then write a sixth paragraph touching on all five.

With luck you’ll be back on track, writing those important scenes that pop off the page.