By Nichole Giles
Being an avid reader, I appreciate really good sensory detail. If, while diving into a story, I have the sudden need to stop and get a snack because my mouth is watering from a food description, the author who made me hungry is successful. While I am lying in bed (in Utah) reading, and I can all but smell the mixture of sand and salt as I listen to the tropical ocean waves crashing on the beach, that author has successfully put me inside the story. When I get a chill from the icy rain rolling down my back, soaking through my clothes and making it hard for me to breathe—all the while basking in the sun in my back yard swing—success!
I want to be one of those writers who can put a reader inside my story. There is nothing I love more than losing myself in a beautifully painted scene, so why would I dare give my readers anything less?
Since I started writing, I’ve learned to pay much closer attention to the world around me. What once was a yellow sunset has become an explosion of color from the horizon, bursting from yellow into orange and then red, pink, purple into a hundred shades of blue. People have more detail, more personality, and more emotion. I find myself describing (in my head) smells, and tastes, and how something feels when I touch it, somewhat like a toddler who is exploring the world for the first time. I’ve begun to realize that a story can be set anywhere, characters can see, hear, smell, touch, or taste anything I want as long as I can ably describe it to my readers.
There is a catch. Writing this kind of vivid description takes patience, skill, and most importantly, practice. So with practicing in mind, here is something for you to try.
Pick a place. Not just any place. A place you remember vividly, but haven’t been for a long time. Picture this place in your mind: What can you see? Hear? Feel? Smell? Taste?
Now that you have a vivid memory, take a moment to write a four or five hundred word description of this place. Now comes the fun part. When you are finished, get out your highlighters. Pick a color for each of the five senses, and highlight each sensory description in the appropriate color. When you are finished, your page should resemble a rainbow. Ask yourself: Is one color more dominant than the others? Did one of the colors get left out completely? Have you alerted all the reader’s senses? If you missed one, think harder to find that specific detail and then go back and add it to your description.
When you feel comfortable that you have described this place accurately, making sure to treat each of the five senses to a color, turn your description over to someone who has never been to the place you described. Ask them to tell you their impressions. Can they picture it as vividly as you? Did you put them in that place? Could they see, feel, hear, smell, taste the things you did? If the answer is yes, you—the author—have found sensory success.
Now that you’ve made yourself hungry, take a break and grab that snack.