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How to Write Descriptions Using Your Five Senses

Updated on March 1, 2018
angela_michelle profile image

Angela is an avid reader who studied English Literature in college. She has a passion for the written word and loves literature.


Importance of Character and Setting

When attempting to sell your work, you want to be able to catch the editors' attention. One of the best ways to do so is by being able to write effective descriptions. Fine tuning your descriptions is an art that allows you to connect with the reader and make your world more real to the audience. Regardless if one is writing fiction or nonfiction, vivid descriptions enhance the writing, as well as the sell-ability of the work.

The two most important factors in every story are the characters and setting. The more real the setting becomes, the more real the story feels. A well developed character creates a person, the reader relates to. One way to do this is by using each of the five senses. A reader no longer merely observes, but begin to feel like a part of the story. Success in writing with all five senses, begins by being an observer of the world around you, being more specific rather than general, and avoid labels that do not describe.


Use All Five Senses

If asked to describe a person or a place, the mind instantly thinks of the physical appearance: what we can see with our eyes and the sounds that we hear. Keep in mind that there are so many ways to depict the universe around us that gives the character and setting a more immediate feel. Scent, touch, and even taste are very personal senses, and often ignored. When describing these, you are taking the reader into your story. Although, sight and hearing are very important senses in writing a description, an observer can see or hear from a long distance away. In order to smell, touch, or even taste you have to be very close, which pulls the reader into the story. This makes them more than an observer of your own little universe.

Be Observant

In order to write about senses well, you need to become an observer of your atmosphere. For some writers this doesn't come naturally; therefore, carrying note cards to record notes about what you see, hear, smell, feel, and taste may help you become a better writer about the world around you. If you see a very pleasant place that would make a really neat setting for a potential story, then take out those note cards, write as descriptively as you can about the smells, the appearance, the sounds, and if you can make sure use taste and touch. If you have the time and opportunity, find a place where you can just sit back and listen to those around you. Hear what people talk about from an observer's perspective. Watch how they hold their hands, the type of clothes they wear, their posture, their ticks, even if they have a certain smell. The more aware you are and the more you observe your surroundings, the better you will be at writing, and in turn the more realistic your work will become.

Be Specific Not General

One thing you want to be careful of when writing about your surroundings is being very specific with each observation. By being very specific, your descriptions become more personal. Rather than saying, "We went for a walk all afternoon and talked about our future," which could mean a myriad of things, you might want a more specific description such as, "We Charlie and I walked through the woods heavily wooded path behind my house. A bird sparrow was singing melodiously up ahead reminding me of riding my bike on this very path so many times when I was little. Life was so carefree back then. We discussed our future whether we would be able to handle a long distance relationship once we went to college he went to NYCU while I stayed here at the community college in Tomahaw, Michigan."

Although there is a caution in giving too many details. Make sure that the details you write are relevant to the story. If you had only written,"reminding me of riding my bike on this very path so many times when I was little," the reader would not understand the significance of this memory. It would also be irrelevant. If you add descriptions like that, make sure it ties in with the present and answer why is it important to the story. By adding, "Life was so carefree back then," it implies that it isn't anymore, which adds emotion to the story.

Writing Tutorials: Description

Avoid Labels that aren't Descriptive

Part of being specific is being careful of not using labels like "beautiful," "splendid," "hideous," "delicious," that do not truly describe. These words have a flattening effect and cause your writing to be very two dimensional. Show the reader why it is beautiful, rather than just stating that it is. For instance if you say, "It was a beautiful sunset on the lake." There are going to be many different images.

This can be okay, depending on what you are trying to get across, but you can make it better by writing about why it is beautiful. A better more descriptive version might be, "the sunlight cascaded across the lake turning the sky every shade of pink, purple, and blue as the sun began to hide behind the mountains." Oh, did I forget to mention that the lake was near a mountain. Was your first image of a lake near a mountain? Do you picture a beautiful sunset even though I didn't say beautiful? By adding these type of descriptions the reader will have a more vivid image of what you are describing. Specific words will have a stronger impact on your overall work.

Using effective descriptions is allowing the reader to see for themselves what the setting looks like, rather than telling them about it. You can accomplish this by avoiding labels that are not descriptive, as well as making sure a variety of senses are used. By being an observer, your writing will be more enjoyable and realistic. So get to work, go to the park, go to the library and start observing the world around you. Who knows, perhaps you'll be inspired to write the next fantasy world that trumps Hogwarts. Remember, JK Rowlings was inspired by a train ride. Who knows where you will be led?

© 2010 Angela Michelle Schultz


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    • newjerusalem profile image

      victor 2 years ago from India

      A well written hub about writing.

    • Joyette  Fabien profile image

      Joyette Fabien 3 years ago from Dominica

      Great hub! I endorse your views on description!

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 3 years ago from Florida

      Very good info here. I'm afraid I don't use good descriptive words in my writing, but I am trying to improve.

      Voted UP, etc.

    • Lady Guinevere profile image

      Debra Allen 3 years ago from West By God

      Thanks for writing this up as I have problems describing things. I bookmarked this and will come back to it time and again. I am also sharing it with others.

    • Nadine May profile image

      Nadine May 3 years ago from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

      What an excellent hub on the art of expressing in words our five ( or six) senses every reader can relate to, when reading a novel. I will go back and edit my writings again and look for any "label" words. Thank you!

    • profile image

      jj 5 years ago


    • angela_michelle profile image

      Angela Michelle Schultz 5 years ago from United States

      I appreciate your input!

    • profile image

      Angel Martinez 5 years ago

      Thank you! great advice & Also very helpful.

    • angela_michelle profile image

      Angela Michelle Schultz 6 years ago from United States

      thank you!

    • rosariosblog profile image

      rosariosblog 6 years ago from Adelaide, Australia

      Good hub... very helpful

    • angela_michelle profile image

      Angela Michelle Schultz 6 years ago from United States

      I hope the tips help!!!

    • angela_michelle profile image

      Angela Michelle Schultz 6 years ago from United States

      I hope the tips help!!!

    • mljdgulley354 profile image

      mljdgulley354 6 years ago

      Thank you for these wonderful tips

    • angela_michelle profile image

      Angela Michelle Schultz 6 years ago from United States

      Good luck with your writing! :)

    • Aceblogs profile image

      Aceblogs 6 years ago from India

      Thanks for the nice share about how to write good and involve oneself fully into it to give it the best , thanks a lot

    • angela_michelle profile image

      Angela Michelle Schultz 7 years ago from United States

      Very good point! THanks!

    • MLoriMotley profile image

      MLoriMotley 7 years ago

      Very good points. All senses should be used when writing. Helps with immersion. :)

    • angela_michelle profile image

      Angela Michelle Schultz 7 years ago from United States

      Dallas, I think learning how to write well is a constant learning experience, and we all have a lot to learn. I know for me, I have to be reminded about things. It's like when I refresh myself on certain tips, my writing excels.

    • dallas93444 profile image

      Dallas W Thompson 7 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

      I have lots to learn. Thanks for your insights, and tips.

      Great hub...

    • angela_michelle profile image

      Angela Michelle Schultz 8 years ago from United States

      I agree! I forget to do it in my nonfiction (because it can be effective there too) but I try to use it in my fiction!

    • GarnetBird profile image

      Gloria Siess 8 years ago from Wrightwood, California

      I remember taking a writing course at OSU and the professor talking about Vivid details. It is so true. You really have to create a word picture. Great Hub!

    • angela_michelle profile image

      Angela Michelle Schultz 8 years ago from United States

      Wow, thank you, I barely got this published!

    • thevoice profile image

      thevoice 8 years ago from carthage ill

      excellent hub work thanks