Sensory Details

Referring to smell, taste, touch, sound, and sight is always an important tool to use in any genre you write in, so if you can add it into the mix when describing the setting, go for it. Let’s try to make more sense of this topic as it applies to setting. 

Of all the senses writers use in writing, sight is the number one that is used. No surprise, I’m sure. When visualizing the scene, try to focus on some of the features that stand out the most that will help the reader visualize the location. Writers lean heavily on color details, which is fine, but be precise in your use of color. A painter does not just squeeze the primary colors out on a palette and begin painting. The mixing and refining of color to get different shades is what might set the good painter apart from the decent painter. No different with writing. Red can also be salmon, cherry, burgundy, puce, ruby, cardinal, rose, maroon, and so on.

Touch is both tricky and important in setting. Think about how the weather may impact touch, like jeans sticking to thy booty on a hot day or sweater material getting in the mouth of a character on a chilly afternoon. If a character is lashing out in anger, maybe it is because the location feels claustrophobic and clammy? A character who is working on a concrete floor all day may be impacted to behave in a certain way.

Think about the sounds that might exist in the setting you are putting your characters in. If it is on a beach, are there seagulls screeching, the smack of a baseball on a mitt, the sound of a Frisbee hitting the sand, the waves rolling in, and so on. Take some time to consider what sounds would exist and write them down to possibly use in your piece.

No doubt, if I assigned you to write the setting completely based on the sense of smell, you might say, Man, that stinks! Well, maybe depending on what you write! Germany’s Patrick Süskind wrote the brilliant Perfume about the hideous Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, the deformed and shunned French orphan born with a superhuman sense of smell. He goes on to become a perfumer and a serial killer. Süskind does a remarkable job of using the sense of smell throughout the entire novel. It is a disturbing but brilliant book. The writer proved smell can be a dominating factor in a novel. The other important thing to remember about using smell in describing a setting is that it is the one sense that brings a person back to a specific moment in time more than any other sense.

Food plays such an important role in our lives for obvious reasons, so why wouldn’t taste also play an important role in the lives of our characters? Setting scenes over a meal, at a coffee house, or bar are standard fare in literature. Eating over a campfire where you write in enough detail that the reader can almost taste the ash on his lips or having the residue of salt getting in her mouth on the beach scene—those kinds of descriptions makes the setting come alive for the reader

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