Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Stop, Smell, Listen: Sensory Description!

Well, my recent editing binge has got me focused on learning the craft. I'm studying pacing, plot flow, and something which I believe draws the line between ordinary writing and extraordinary writer: sensory description. The absolute best writers know how to envelope a reader in a full sensory experience, simply through words. That's pretty amazing.

It's also quite tricky. But I believe there's some easy ways to improve sensory description in our writing! One quick way I've discovered works like this: go through your work and find all the places where you describe things only with visuals. Then see if you can take the same description and portray it using the other senses. For instance, take the example of fresh-baked bread.

Visual: The golden loaves contrasted vividly with the fresh parsley and mint leaves in the basket.

Sensory (touch): The warmth of the fresh bread seeped through the cool wicker gaps of the basket.

Sensory (smell): Warm yeasty-gold fragrance of the bread mingled with the sharp spice of the mint and parsley.

You then have three options for description for the exact same scene. Taste and hearing didn't come into that particular example, but it would be possible to incorporate them by describing the rustle of the herbs against the crusty loaves, or the flavors on the tongue. I find that smell and taste often go together, and can be used interchangeably. Saying someone "tasted" instead of "smelled" often puts a surprising, appealing twist to things.

Using this technique, I've been going through my writing and incorporating all of the senses into description. The loveliness of this "find and replace" method is that it doesn't add word count, yet it vastly improves your WIP!

Now, time to take a walk in the rain and experience it with all my senses...


lorna.poston said...

Nice post, Nina. :)

Nina Hansen said...

Thank you! It's been an exciting discovery for me!

Hannah said...

Nina, you should be a writing teacher! V. good post! *hug*

Nina Hansen said...

Erg...don't think I'm that good, but thank you!

Hannah said...

LOL You are! You're welcome.

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