One of the best ways to bring characters to life and to connect the reader with the story is to use all five senses in your writing. It’s a lot harder to do than it sounds. Face it, sight and sound are easy. Taste is obvious for food scenes, but can you incorporate it in other ways? Touch is also easy for sex scenes, but again, how else can you use it? And what about smell?
One of the first times I submitted my manuscript to an agent who provided feedback, as opposed to those who offer standard form letters, I received a lot of helpful advice. But the most interesting to me was the suggestion to incorporate all five senses. As I reviewed what I’d written and what she’d suggested, I realized that while my characters were seeing everything around them and hearing quite a lot, they didn’t touch, taste or smell things.
That led me to observing things around me. What does wood feel like and how does it compare to leather, granite or wool? How about different types of skin—dry, old, young, soft, smooth? If I closed my eyes and touched something, could I tell what it was? And then, could I write about it?
I remember in science class learning about the different areas of taste on the tongue. Sweet, sour, salty or bitter, there are a variety of tastes out there and many things we can describe, such as food, drink, rain, snow or even a lover.
I know that I can smell when it’s going to snow. I can smell when my house has been closed up for too long. I can smell food cooking or too many people in an enclosed space. All of those things make the environment real and can make it jump off the page.
That’s not to say we should have pages and pages and pages of description. You don’t want to slow down your story and you need to make sure your pacing works. But using just the right sensory description can save you words or even pages, freeing up your story for action and making the reader jump into the story with you.