1. Thomas Kitchen

    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

    Nov 5, 2012
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    I'm Welsh - and proud!

    Using all five senses

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Thomas Kitchen, Feb 4, 2013.


    Ever since I began writing I have had great difficulty in describing and setting the scene on the page. I can see the place or character or whatever in my head very plainly, but it's hard to use all five senses during my story.

    For example, smell is one which I find difficult to do. I usually say something like "the smell of walnuts wafted into his nose and he let out a sigh of pleasure." Perhaps it's fine once or twice to say it in this way, but when it's used every single time in this fashion (as I always do), it can get especially tedious.

    Is there a way for me to improve on this besides writing and practicing, or is it simply an 'experience matters' answer? Is there always need to use all five senses (this seems an obvious yes to me, but I may be wrong)?

    Thoughts and suggestions? :)
  2. drifter265

    drifter265 Banned

    Jan 29, 2013
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    You have to make sure if the scenery is even important. Even what the character looks like or is wearing doesn't matter all that much. Just make it vague and use "enough" because no one's going to really care. Think about when people are casting for a movie, they're not looking at just one actor who specifies the exact description of the character, the actor's actions, voice, tendencies can totally blow their version of the character to the people screening them and so can people's version of the character in your story when they read it in their head. Just make sure to explain their actions and dialogue, that's the most important, and that's what will give people the image of their surroundings.

    Really, it's not that important, focus on plot and detail to everything but setting and appearance. A five year old can describe a great scenery, it's stupid.
  3. BitPoet

    BitPoet New Member

    Dec 22, 2008
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    Southern Germany
    No, there's definitely no need to use all five senses all the time. Or do you consciously notice the smells around you all day long? Your characters are no different from you, so they only notice smells that are unusual, very pleasing, obnoxious or that remind them of special events in their lives.

    In the places where you really want to use smell in your story, describing it is only the second best option. Let your characters do it for you.

    "That smell heavenly," he told her and smiled, "reminds me of grandma's walnut cookies. Can I have a slice? Please?"
  4. tionA

    tionA Active Member

    Jan 28, 2013
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    + you don't have to use the word ''smell'' all the time, either.

    you can use:

  5. peachalulu

    peachalulu Member Reviewer Contributor

    May 20, 2012
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    occasionally Oz , mainly Canada
    Take a note pad around with you for a few weeks, or indefinitely like I do, and
    record for a week your own five sense experiences. It will help sharpen your
    observations making your detail less forced, more natural. You'll also
    notice scents usually happen when there is a change - a new restaurant,
    when your hungry, when a woman wears a new perfume, etc. Texture
    usually comes about when you're in contact with something. They can also
    trigger memories.
    Sounds can also be tuned out if you're used to them, sort of like a scent. Or
    startling if you're not ready for them. Taste is perhaps the easiest but can sometimes be
    taken for granted.
    BitPoet is also bang-on - you can reveal sense imagery in conversation.
    I wouldn't sweat it just practice.
  6. Cogito

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    May 19, 2007
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    Massachusetts, USA
    Smell is the most powerful sense for triggering memory. Use it sparingly. Reserve it for where it delivers maximum effect.

    Smell tends to evoke the most primitive of feelings: revulsion, horror, fear, hunger. It can also be very personal in its effect, so you may evoke something other than what you intended.

    It's great to keep it in mind for building atmosphere, but a little goes a long way.

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