Writing the Senses

Have you ever done one of those writing exercises to make you think more about using all your senses in your writing?

I’ve at least tried some, but I get bored pretty quickly with exercises, so instead I steal the ideas and try to use them in my normal writing.

One thing I feel strongly is that it’s not necessary to use every sense in every bit of description. For some writers that may be a feature; they may be intending to have the reader dwell in the world they’re creating, be immersed in it, but for most purposes, I think it’s okay to only give outlines. Vivid outlines, but outlines.

My theory is that reading is a collaborative process. Every reader brings something different to the book. The writer can denote, but everything they write also connotes. Every reader will gain different connotations from the same denotations. (Here’s a great concise explantion.) A writer can connote a lot with very few words.

I like that, because I admire concise prose. I would much rather read a scene in which one sense is vivid and connotative, and emblematic of the pov character, than one in which several senses have been laboriously included just for the sake of using a lot of different senses.

About Victoria Janssen

Victoria Janssen [she, her] currently writes cozy space opera for Kalikoi. The novella series A Place of Refuge begins with Finding Refuge: Telepathic warrior Talia Avi, genius engineer Miki Boudreaux, and augmented soldier Faigin Balfour fought the fascist Federated Colonies for ten years, following the charismatic dissenter Jon Churchill. Then Jon disappeared, Talia was thought dead, and Miki and Faigin struggled to take Jon’s place and stay alive. When the FC is unexpectedly upended, Talia is reunited with her friends and they are given sanctuary on the enigmatic planet Refuge. The trio of former guerillas strive to recover from lifetimes of trauma, build new lives on a planet with endless horizons, and forge tender new connections with each other.
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4 Responses to Writing the Senses

  1. Cara Bristol says:

    I agree. I think it's important to use all the senses throughout a story, but you don't need to use them all at the same time. In real life, even though all five senses are operational, they're not used with the same intensity at the same time. If you're touching something soft, there may not be a scent to be smelled. If you're smelling something that evokes an emotion, the sense of touch may not be involved. If you're blindfolded…you get the idea.

  2. Victoria Janssen says:

    I think it has a lot to do with what we're paying attention to as well.

  3. Natasha Moore says:

    I always try to remember "selective detail" Whether it's the senses or something else described, I try to use the ones that matter at the time.

  4. Victoria Janssen says:

    "Selective detail." I like that. Much more concise than my ramblings!

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