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Using Your Character’s Senses To Show Your Story-World, by Kashmira Sheth

Blue Jasmine by Kashmira Sheth - Indian-American Young Adult and Children's novelist

As a writer, many of us see the story unfolding in our head. When we start putting those scenes down on the page most of them are written out as what our main character or our narrator ‘sees’. I love what eyes can see and the type of sensory details it can provide the readers but it is important to remember the four other senses too.

In real life we experience many things with sight but at the same time we also gain knowledge of our physical world through the other senses. It is important to write stories that not only use the sense of sight but also employ sound, taste, smell and touch to make the physical world of the protagonist richer and more complete.  For example, if there is spilled sugar in the kitchen our character may not see it but will experience it with other senses. How she discovers it could depend upon if she is walking barefoot or wearing shoes.  If barefoot she may notice it by feeling it on her feet but wearing shoes she might hear the crunch first.

Rich sensory details bring multiple layers to a story. A misty, foggy March morning with beautiful imagery is good. But if we take the same scene and add the sound of a bird, say a cardinal, piercing though the mist it could add a new dimension. The reader hasn’t seen the cardinal, and yet the sound can bring the image of red crested bird ready for spring. By adding sound we give an impression that beyond the veil of mist there is a world out there, a world of sound, color and life.

Similarly, the sense of touch brings texture to the story. Just observing that a wool shawl looks soft or rough doesn’t create the same image as adding how it feels to the touch. That the wool shawl felt smoother than my furry kitten or that it felt like I was holding a prickly pear gives a fuller, more accurate and vivid description.

Taste is one of the most important and indispensable tools for fiction writers. If you are writing about food, no matter how much you describe it just doesn’t do it justice. It is like going to a restaurant and getting a dish that looked lovely. The presentation is great but what you are after is the taste. Are the green beans crunchy and flavorful? Is the dressing tangy? Is the crust melt-in-your mouth flaky?  In my writing, I use the foods and spices of India to bring out the flavor of Indian dishes.

Last but not least is the sense of smell.  Smell is probably the most evocative of all the senses. You may visit a beach that you used to go as a child after twenty years. You may notice that half-a-dozen new resorts have been built, changing the look of the beach. Yet you might feel that there is something very familiar about the place. It probably is the scent of the salty, moist air. It is the scent that will take you back to your childhood of building sand castles and wading into the water.

Using all the senses to describe the place your protagonist inhabits is critically important in a YA novel. It immerses your reader fully in the scenes and settings of the story. As writer, it is satisfying to make the world come alive, one sensory detail at a time.


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Writing Teen Novels

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3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Reblogged this on Tangled Inkspills and commented:
    This is something I never thought consciously about. So glad I found this article!

    July 12, 2013
  2. This is something I never thought consciously about. So glad I found this article!

    July 12, 2013

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