I think we can all agree that writing is a beautiful art. We can string words together like pearls and make them sound pretty. We can elegantly describe a moving scene in a story or deftly sketch a character, or even draw a wide brush over an entirely different and fantastical world before we park our characters in it.
You’ve probably gotten pretty decent at employing imagery and even sound—voices, music—to beautiful effect. But what about the other senses?
I remember the first novel I read which employed a several-pages-long description of a family meal. In the description, the meal, which was roasted duck and some sort of sauce made with capers and low-country scuppernong grapes, became a metaphor for the family’s troubled past, difficult socioeconomic status, and it’s matriarch’s aspirations of better living (foreshadowing!).
Fortunately for us, the Internet is chock-full of places you can visit if you want to learn about how to use the sense of taste in your writing. Look no further than food blogs for your inspiration; Food52’s Amanda Hesser has a great introductory food-writing post here: Advice for Future Food Writers.
Our olfactory capacity is a surprisingly active place. You know that smells are more intimately tied to memory than any other sense. When you’re writing about smells and scents, pleasant or unpleasant, use active verbs. Smells tend to have movement, personality and purpose. Whether it’s a comforting, yeasty smell of freshly baked bread, or the creeping stinkiness of a gas station bathroom door left ajar, play with the movement of smells in your story.
Are you trying to sketch a sensitive scene, but don’t want to veer into the maudlin and overly sappy ditch at the side of your narrative road? Try diversifying your storytelling using the most powerful sense for conveying emotion: touch. Characters’ arms knit together when they’re nervous, they run their fingers through their hair and rub their eyes when they’re distracted or upset; they place quiet hands on shoulders for comfort and support. Using these gestures and others can help you economize your dialogue and exposition, and help fulfill that age-old writing mandate: show, don’t tell.
For more great advice about using the 5 senses in your writing, check out Orly Konig Lopez’s post on Writers in the Storm, Unforgettable Writing: Use All 5 Senses to Add Emotion.