Cold Seen

Sensory Writing: Don’t forget the senses

It’s getting colder and colder outside now. If you have to wait for a bus to work in the morning you may have noticed! What words would you associate with the experience? Bitter or biting, perhaps? When creating a story or a poem it is easy to forget to include the elements that turn a flat narrative into a rounded work of creative writing, and so remembering such everyday experiences can help better describe what your fictional characters are feeling, or create a greater sense of atmosphere.

By getting caught up in your basic plot-line, the concept you are trying to convey, or the message you want to put across, you are in danger of producing work that has no colour or texture. This will lead to a story or poem that reads as a dull account of events rather than engaging prose. The most powerful pieces of writing encompass the experiences that the world around us affords in the shape of what we can hear, see, smell, touch and taste. Our five senses provide the descriptions and emotions required to add interest to your work.

For example, if you’re writing about fruit, why merely describe apple as just red or green? Does the skin shine in the light, or is it matte, bruised, or dull? Think about how the fruit feels in your palm. Are the apples rough or smooth, or both? Do they have a scent before they are bitten, or do they cut up? Or does the fruitful cider-like aroma only come after the skin is removed? What sound is made when a knife slices the skin and then dives into the apple’s flesh? As you bite an apple, how does it taste? How does it feel against your tongue? How does it sound as you crunch into it?

This method of thinking about your senses in relation to food should be applied to anything you’re writing about. Whether you are describing a place, item or person, think of the whole picture. What you can see; what you can hear? Are the birds singing? Can you feel the air on your skin? Is the bus seat hot from a previous passenger or cold? Can you smell chimney smoke? Does the dust in the abandoned room look like it’s been there for a week, a month, or a year?

While we frequently write about what we can see without a second thought, it takes the backing up of the experiences of the other four senses to add dimension and feeling to a piece of work. By asking yourself questions about the surroundings you are inventing, you will be able to convey a more rounded reading experience to your audience.

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Dr Kathryn Bates is a graduate of archaeology and history. She has excavated across the world as an archaeologist, and tutored medieval history at Leicester University. She joined the administrative team at Oxford Open Learning twelve years ago. Alongside her distance learning work, Dr Bates is a bestselling novelist, and an itinerant creative writing tutor for primary school children.

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