Using the Five Senses in Fiction, Part Two: Smell, Touch, & Taste

Five senses Part Two

“I was afraid that by observing objects with my eyes and trying to comprehend them with each of my senses I might blind my soul altogether.” —Socrates

I say let’s blind our readers’ souls with our stories! What? Seems legit to me. *shrugs*

As an author, your job is to transport your reader into the story and have them go through the full journey. And the use of the five senses is the simplest way to do so. They help with taking in information from the world around us, and help convey a message to the readers by providing a strong image in their souls . . . err, heads.

If you missed last week’s post on Using the Five Senses in Fiction, Part One: Sight and Sound, what are you waiting for? Go check it out!!! 😀

Now let’s get to the last three senses: smell, touch, and taste (they were feeling left out).

SMELL

Authors don’t seem to take advantage of smell as much as they should, which is a shame, as it can be a very stimulating sense. Layering your scenes with it can create a subtle sense of ambiance. Think of the scent that assaults you when you walk into a restaurant or the repulsion you feel if the septic tank starts overflowing.

Ugh. Let’s move on from that one.

Smell can be the most provoking of all senses. When your brain processes scent, it travels through your memory and emotions. Which is why it’s also best known for evoking powerful memories and nostalgia.

• It might seem that describing scent is difficult, but what you have going for you is that smell is concise. Use scents tied to a setting that most people are familiar with, such as the antiseptic smell of a hospital.
• Like all senses, you can also use smell to convey certain emotions. For example, I always feel hopeful when I smell coffee in the morning. Others feel comfort when the aroma of fresh bread flows through the air. Actually, that comforts me too, because, like Oprah, I love bread. Umm, I mean because most scents are universal. On the other hand, if you grew up with a drunk dad who slapped you each time your mom baked bread, you’d feel anxious, angry, or scared whenever the scent of fresh bread hit your nostrils.
• Smell never stays in one place. It’s always in motion, so it will never really stick around. But remember, it might have creeping feeling to it, or it could surround you, or even follow you. Visualize it logically, and you can’t go wrong.

TOUCH

People, in general, are always touching something. Whether it’s our cell phones, coffee mugs, clothing, or even something mindless like resting our hands, it ALL involves touching. And no, your readers won’t physically feel any of the things you’re mentioning. However—by describing the aspects of any object—you can help the sense of touch take on a significant presence in your story.

The physical connection translates into an immediate feeling, which is why touching something helps you experience it on a deeper level.

• Describe textures to bring the reader into what the POV is feeling.
• Since the sense of touch will be used less than sight, smell, or sound, be sure to make it relevant to the scene.
• It’s easier to bring your reader into the experience of feeling something. If I mention the roughness of the callouses on my character’s hand, anyone can imagine accurately what that feels like.
• Don’t just stick with describing textures. It goes beyond smooth or rough. Touch can cause pain, pleasure, and even indicate whether something is hot or cold.
• Don’t be afraid to include your reader whenever your character feels something. They want to fully experience your story, after all.

 

TASTE

Although the action of eating is used a lot in novels, I feel like the sense of taste is overlooked the most, ironically. Yes, it’s an essential part of everyday life, but it’s exactly why we mindlessly write people eating, yet forget to get into taste. Let the reader in! They need to enjoy that sweet and spicy cinnamon roll right along with your fierce MC.

I’m not saying you should describe everything your characters are eating, but it can enhance your reader’s experience. Think of the salt in the air at the beach. That’s not food, but you know exactly what I mean. You can taste it on the tip of your tongue, can’t you? Help the reader put herself in the character’s shoes by depicting a clear picture of what the character is experiencing in the moment.

• Eating is pleasurable, so it’s perfect for taking your reader’s taste buds on a trip.
• Think of describing a sensual moment, like the fruity taste of a first kiss, or the sweet juice of watermelon coating your tongue on a hot day. This makes the pleasure center respond.
• Use taste to give context; maybe your coffee-lover heroine gets so depressed she refuses coffee. That’s an indication of something wrong.
• It can enhance personalities. Imagine one bubbly friend who loves milkshakes and pizza, and another other stuck-up goody-two-shoes friend who only drinks green smoothies and refuses sugar.
• Combine taste with touch by adding texture. Think of the smoothness of a hard, round lollipop or the velvety feel of a plump, juicy peach in your mouth.
• Adding taste to a scene doesn’t always have to be related to food. Think of a fight scene and the metallic taste of blood surprising your character as he gets punched in the face.
• Use food and meals to show the passage of time. Enjoying a bagel with cream cheese would most likely be in the morning, and a steak with mashed potatoes and salad would be dinner. This helps to place the reader at the right time of day without having to point out that it’s eight o’clock at night.

 

Remember:

• Tie your senses together. Each one is unique and adds value, but when you combine them, you truly allow your reader to experience the scene.
• All it takes is a sentence or two to get the senses across.
• Think of the senses as plotting tools, and answer the questions: What can your character see, hear, smell, touch, and taste?

 

Do you have any tips to share on this? I’d love to read them!

 

5 comments

  1. Some of my favorite authors make me smell things that aren’t there, lol. When I read Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander books, I want to plug my nose because of 18th-century body odor.

    These articles (part one AND part two) have been a terrific resource and reminder that all five senses must be involved for the reader to completely immerse himself and come back for more. Sharing this for sure. Thanks for the hours of research!

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