The Power Of The 5 Senses In Stories

The Power Of The 5 Senses In Stories

Writers Write creates writing resources and shares writing tips. In this post, we talk about the power of the 5 senses in stories and why they are important in the books you write.

The Power Of The 5 Senses In Stories

Whether we are writing a novel or a memoir or a short story, we bring our words to life when we use the five senses. We cannot describe effectively without them. Using the senses is the easiest way to show and not tell.

We must stop stop telling readers what we think, or feel, or how we see things. We do this by moving into the bodies of our characters and experiencing the story through them.

As Anton Chekhov said: ‘Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.’

When readers can smell cupcakes baking in a character’s house, touch her cotton sheets, and hear her dog panting, the writing becomes real for them.

If we leave sensory details to chance, we risk alienating readers. If we understand the magic hidden in the senses, we risk nothing, and we are able to capture their imaginations.

If we write a story filled with senses, readers becomes empathetic because they relate to these senses.

How do you do it?

Decide on a setting. Then close your eyes and taste, smell, hear, touch, and see the place you want to describe.

If you struggle with the senses try this simple exercise.

Exercise – The 5 Senses

Remember your first cup of coffee or tea this morning?

Where were you?
What time was it?
Who were you with?
What was the temperature?

List five items that you had around you.


Then complete this:

I remember tasting…
I remember seeing…
I remember touching…
I remember hearing…
I remember smelling…

Now write the opening paragraph of your morning using these details. Start with these words, ‘I looked at the cup of …’ and write for five minutes.

Use this simple exercise to describe every setting and every memory in every scene you write.

If you’re writing about a character, start with his name. Example: Jason looked at the cup of…

Some Extra Sensory Information

  1. See: Your emotions are manipulated by colour. Pink is a cry for comfort. Green stimulates – or jars. Orange is sensual. Blue soothes.
  2. SmellMemories associated with smell never fade. A hint of vanilla essence takes you back to baking fairy cakes with your grandmother. They were vanilla, with pink icing, and silver sprinkles. You see her smile, wiping flour-covered fingers on her white apron.
  3. Hear: Music dictates how you act. Mall music helps you spend your time and money. War drums motivate primitive actions.
  4. Taste: If you close your child’s eyes and block his nose, and feed him, first cinnamon, and then flour, he won’t be able to tell the difference. Taste relies on texture and aroma.
  5. Touch: What do you feel beneath your fingertips? Or on your lips? If you want to gain trust, shake hands. Touch confirms that our eyes aren’t deceiving us.

Writing Exercises Using The 5 Senses

  1. Describe a place removing one of the senses. Imagine being blind on a busy bus, or deaf at a play.
  2. Describe an abstract emotion using the five senses. For example: Hate looks like raw meat, smells like rotten eggs, feels like barbed wire, sounds like slot machines, tastes like cold black tea.
  3. Look at a place or a person you’ve seen every day of your life. Now imagine that this is the first time you’re seeing that place or that person. Describe them using the senses.

Happy writing.

And try our FREE COURSE: How To Show And Not Tell In Short Stories.

by Amanda Patterson
© Amanda Patterson

If you enjoyed this post, read:

  1. Creating Characters – 5 Mistakes Beginner Writers Make
  2. Make Me Care – 9 Ways To Ensure An Unforgettable Read
  3. 5 Ways Setting Affects Your Characters
  4. 30 Inspiring Blog Post Ideas For Writers
  5. 9 Literary Terms You Need To Know

Top Tip: If you want to learn how to write a memoir, look into our Secrets of a Memoirist course. If you want to write a book, sign up for Writers Write ONLINE.

Posted on: 25th November 2011

2 thoughts on “The Power Of The 5 Senses In Stories”

  1. Amanda, I especially enjoyed: “Hate looks like raw meat, smells like rotten eggs, feels like barbed wire, sounds like slot machines, tastes like cold black tea.” You’ve made me think. When I go back through my WIP, I’ll look at everything from a different perspective.

  2. Thanks. I enjoyed this as well. You touched on it a little, but I’m kind of surprised you didn’t talk about personality (the sixth sense in creative writing).

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