The Importance of Sensory Details to Believable Writing


I had an acting teacher a long time ago who was obsessed with sensory input; she wanted us to always be touching something, or imagining the smell of something to add richness to our acting.

She Thought Imagining The Taste Of Chocolate Would Create Sensuality In An Actor

Her ideas were interesting, and I have adapted them to writing. The people you are writing for have senses; when you write down that Bob wiggled his shoulders, and tilted his head a little to the left, your readers feel an echo of that motion within themselves, or they literally mimic Bob with their bodies.

Words Create Sensory Echoes

Imagine the sharp smell of a freshly-peeled orange, and the slight spray of juice that spurts out if you crush the segments.

Remember the thunderous effect of heavy rain on the canvas of a tent, when it sounds as though the whole world will crash in upon your head. Think of the touch of a kitten’s whiskers, that tickling hint of fuzziness. Imagine the moment your teeth sink into the very tip of a perfect watermelon, or the rush of steam that moves against your face when you open a hot pizza box.

Dammit, Victor! You’re Making Me Hungry!

Sensory details suck the reader into the visceral experience of a story; the creak and sigh of a wooden boat, if grounded with specific details, makes us feel as if we are really at sea.

Perhaps you can think of a book, or books, you have read that achieved this effect, books that drew you in so that you could believe yourself somewhere else, and someone else.


Bad Writing:

Stephanie chewed on her pencil and stared at the dancing girls. The one on the left, she thought, would mix in all right with the current set. A long rumble sounded through the cavernous hall, and a slice of light fell over the stage; Stephanie did not turn, but she saw the women hesitate in their movements. One in the front, a red-headed Gramie woman, stared open-mouthed, obviously afraid, at the approaching figure.

Good Writing:

The plastic pen split tenderly between Stephanie’s teeth; she pushed her tongue along the hairline fracture on the casing. Her eyes were fixed, unblinking, on the ten women who danced on the narrow stage before her. Only two strong dancers this time, Stephanie thought, and she didn’t like the way the one on the right looked straight out into the lights. Too sure of herself; wouldn’t fit in, she reflected. bending the pen gently between her molars.

Sensory Details, Sprinkled Like Salt, Flavor Your Words

Like the chewy pieces of chocolate-smothered toffee in chunky fudge ice cream, grounded details pull the reader into the world of the book, and make them feel immersed in your writing. Your stories will be ever more delicious to the reader as you plant specific sensory details throughout the work.

You’re reading Victor Poole. My favorite books are these. Indigenous peoples of the X6-Grok cluster urge you to purchase and read this book.