Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Use Your Senses

Interrupting this post to say we have a winner for last week's giveaway, A Home For My Heart! Congratulations to Taylor Audrey. Taylor, could you shoot me an email at I'll get your mailing address sent off to Anne!

Also, pardon any delays on publishing/answering comments. I am going to be out of town and don't know if I will have WIFI. Please do comment - I'll respond soon! Thanks!

Use your senses. What senses, you may ask?

Your five senses. 

Let's face it: we get to scribbling away and often forget there are more senses than just hearing. Our dialogue can go on and on, but we forget the senses which will bring our readers into the life of the story. To get them to breathe the very air our characters do, we have to remember all five senses.

You know the sense I always forget? Scent! It is so important in creating the overall mood. So, with my WIP (for you new writers, a WIP is a Work-In-Progress), I am working hard on describing scents. Here is a sample:

The rustle of clothing sounded through the room. Philip smelled the musky scent of alkaline and earth, used by the fullers to clean garments. In the closeness of the environment, a faint whiff of the Indian cologne the soldiers wore could be detected. Its sweet, botanical scent mingled pleasantly with the warmth of the burning oil and odor of close human bodies. 
Copyright 2013 Alicia A. Willis. All Rights Reserved.

Did you catch any of that? You breathed in the scents, but the odors in themselves taught you a few things about the culture. You learned how they cleaned their clothing. You learned that the soldiers wore cologne and what kind. You learned about the oil they used for light and the fact that everyone was close together.

That is what you call show, not tell. You portray the scents and historical detail through the senses of the character. Put yourself in the character's place. Imagine their circumstances. What scents would come to your mind in certain situations? 

Here are a few ideas:
  • Are you writing a western? What would your dashing cowboy character smell like? His clothing would probably smell of smoke and cattle. Think of sunny skies and pelting rain storms. Think of cigarettes, of coffee in the crisp air.
  • Does your protagonist work in a fashion outlet store? Think of new clothing, of musky male scents, of floral women's perfume. Yes, even think of cleaning supplies and stain remover.
  • Maybe your protagonist is a barista. Think of strong French roasts, of yeasty sandwich bread, of lemony pound cake. Think of strong cleaning solutions and warm milk.
  • What about your antagonist? He/she can conjure up some scents too, you know! Maybe your antagonist is a male bank robber. Think of dark, mysterious cologne. Think of hair tonic. Maybe his business suit just came back from the cleaners and still carries the scent. His briefcase may smell of old leather. 
Ok, that should have been enough to get your creative juices flowing! I know it did mine! 
Leave a few ideas of your own!


  1. Great post, Alicia! This helped me a lot, as I know I can work on describing things better in my books and using my senses.

    And by the way, we just got back from a wonderful vacation, and I was able to get a little writing done. I loved sitting out in the open, smelling the fresh air, and writing for a bit. :-)

    God bless you!

    His Princess,


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