Sensory imagery is (are?) descriptions that invoke any one or more of your senses — touch, taste, smell, hear, see — and often emotions as well, in order to help the reader paint a picture in their mind of what’s going on. In case it’s not obvious, in order for your writing to really stand out, you need to have quite a bit of sensory imagery in it. After all, there’s a reason the phrase “show, don’t tell”, exists. (All examples present in this post are written by me, because I don’t have time to flip through a book and find examples that are actually good 😉

Touch

When describing touch, you want to write about how things feel. Are they rough? Soft? Sharp? Dull? You may also want to describe the contact. Does the character gently brush their fingers over the item, as if it’s an ancient relic? Do they grab it without a care in the world?

Examples:

“The little boy hugged the white bundle of fluff to his chest, its soft hairs tickling his nose.”

“The princess ran her fingers over the luxurious fabrics located in her closet, and decided on the satin dress her uncle had gifted her.”

“He pounded the rough wall with his bare fists, ignoring the pebbles getting lodged in his skin and drawing blood.”

Taste

With taste, it’s pretty straightforward. You’re gonna wanna talk about, well, how things taste! Is it sweet or sour? Spicy or bland?

Examples:

“I bit into the burger my mom had cooked, and promptly spit the vile thing out.”

“He savored every bite of the expertly seasoned salmon as if it were his last meal.”

“The smoothie reminded her of summer days spent lounging under the oak tree in her backyard, sipping on whatever fruity concoction her mother had made that day.”

Smell

The key to describing smell in a way that paints an image is to avoid words like good or bad — both of these mean different things to different people! Instead, use more specific words:

Examples:

“The earthy smell of the forest, especially after a late night storm, was the primary factor in his decision to run outside instead of on a treadmill indoors.”

“The faint, floral scent of her perfume was addictive, and Tyler found himself dreaming of nuzzling his face into her neck.”

“The subtle scent of vanilla traveled all the way from the kitchen to her bedroom on the second floor.”

Hear

Sounds are really fun to describe in my opinion, along with sight. There’s so many different ways something can sound! Is it a shaking bass you can feel in your chest? Is it a quiet squeak? A shrill screech piercing through your eardrums?

Examples:

“He let out an ear-splitting howl, and fell to his knees, his body racked with the pain of his loss.”

“The soft chimes of the music led her off the path, and deeper into the woods.”

“Even the rain’s drumming on the window wasn’t enough to drown out the sounds of her sobs, which echoed through the empty house, the house built for two, built by two, but only holding one.”

Sight

Information like the shape and color can bring simple descriptions to life before the readers eyes if done well. However, be careful that you don’t get carried away; nobody wants to read two pages detailing the exact layout of the second floor of the main character’s best friend’s house.

Examples:

“The sapphires and rubies carefully placed in the hilt of the sword glimmered in the sunlight.”

“He grinned sheepishly as he handed in a wrinkled piece of paper covered in pencil markings. ‘Sorry, Ms. Ross. It was actually in my backpack all along.'”

“The golden dress she wore to school that day complimented her dark skin beautifully, and nobody could look away.”

Putting it All Together

Now, all these descriptions are well and good, but for the greatest impact, you’re going to need to include all of the senses, or at least a few, in a single scene. Like this!:

“She was beautiful. That was the simplest way he could think to describe her. Except, the word beautiful didn’t even begin to cover it. The word beautiful said nothing about how it smelled like a garden whenever she walked into the classroom. It said nothing about her laugh, her laugh that would bring a smile to even the grumpiest of faces. It didn’t say anything about the freckles dotting her skin, or how there was that one strand of hair she had to constantly brush back, or the calluses on her fingers from always playing her violin, how they’d feel both soft and rough when she trailed her finger down his chest. No, beautiful didn’t have a thing on her.”

“The detective knew the second he stepped into the room that it belonged to a teenaged boy. He tuned out the crying from the living room, trusting that his coworker would take care of the poor mother, and began taking notes of what he saw. Clothes covered the ground, and bedsheets lay crumpled at the bottom of the bed. The odor of sweaty socks was definitely present, along with hints of an attempt at covering it up with Febreeze. Posters of cars were scattered across the walls, some of the corners peeling off. There was absolutely nothing out of the ordinary; nothing that could be of use to him. He sighed, and left the room.”

 

And, yeah! That’s it I guess, hopefully it was of some help to somebody!

Recommend0 recommendationsPublished in Writing Advice

Lillian

Hi! I'm Lillian, an extraverted misfit whose personality traits are just contradiction after contradiction *sighs internally*. I've written a grand total of zero books, but I have a couple dozen works in progress! (I just haven't quite gotten them onto paper yet...)

View all posts

6 comments

  • I always go very loosely with my descriptions, mainly because too many descriptions turn me away easily. But, a few of my Beta readers for the Skinwalker have come back to me saying there wasn’t enough descriptions, so this article is actually very helpful 🙂

  • Your writing is so nice!!! I love it when people include a little bit of creative writing in their posts. It’s so fun 😀 Thank you for the tips…I need to start using sensory details more often. I always use the word “feels” and it really sucks…

    • Thank you! And to avoid using the word “feels”, maybe you could slip in a metaphor or two? Like, instead of saying “The dress felt rough/prickly,” you could say “The dress was made of thorns.”

  • Love how you tied it all into a single paragraph at the end! I struggle with clumping too many similar sensory details together, instead of consistently bringing in all of them. The worst for me is taste. I want to use it in unique ways other than…you know…food. But I’m still working on it XD

    • Thanks! Taste is pretty difficult. The only thing I could think of besides food is how the air tastes, but you can only use that so often. And yeah, it’s pretty easy to get carried away with sensory details. I’ve managed to write an entire page of character description, only to have to delete it all!

Who’s Online

There are no users currently online

Categories

Most Viewed Posts

Check out Teen Writers Conference!