There are places I remember…
Whether we are writing a novel or a memoir, we bring our words to life when we use the five senses. We cannot describe effectively without them. We must stop stop telling the reader what we think, or how we see things. We do this by moving into the bodies of our characters. When the reader is able to smell cupcakes baking in a character’s house, touch his cotton sheets, and hear his dog panting, the writing becomes real for him.
If we leave sensory details to chance, we risk alienating a reader. If we understand the magic hidden in the senses, we risk nothing, and we are able to capture a reader’s imagination. If we tell a story, filled with senses, the reader becomes empathetic ‐ because he relates 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.
Remember the first cup of coffee you had this morning?
Where were you?
What was the time?
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, every memory and every scene you ever write. If you’re writing about a character, start with his name, E.g. Jason remembers smelling…
Some Extra Sensory Information
Your emotions are coloured, by, colour. Pink is a cry for comfort. Green stimulates – or jars. Orange is sensual. Blue soothes.
Memories associated with smell never fade. A hint of vanilla essence takes you back to baking fairycakes with your grandmother. They were vanilla, with pink icing, and silver sprinkles. You see her smile, wiping butter on her white apron.
Music dictates how you act. Mall music helps you spend your time and money. War drums motivate primitive actions.
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.
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.
Other descriptive writing exercises
- Describe a place removing one of the senses. Imagine being blind on a busy bus, or deaf at a play.
- Describe an abstract emotion using the five senses. E.g. Hate looks like raw meat, smells like rotten eggs, feels like barbed wire, sounds like slot machines, tastes like cold black tea.
- 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 the place using the senses.
P.S. If you want to learn how to write a memoir, join our Secrets of a Memoirist course.
© Amanda Patterson
If you enjoyed this post, read:
- Creating Characters – 5 Mistakes Beginner Writers Make
- Make Me Care – 9 Ways To Ensure An Unforgettable Read
- Wherever I Lay My Hat – How Setting Affects Your Characters
- 30 Inspiring Blog Post Ideas For Writers
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