Setting and the Five Senses

Authors often visualize their stories as if they were movies unreeling in front of them. This is unfortunate because it often means they focus heavily on the visual, when the world of narrative offers so much more!

Namely, the other four senses.

Using the FIVE Senses

Sight alone does not make a reader feel immersed in a story. When authors do this, it often makes the setting feel as if it were merely a backdrop to the unfolding story events and not an actual place that characters interact with.

My basic rule of thumb, and a place to start, is that every page of the ms should have a sense other than sight on it. Bells should jingle and trash cans reek. Skin should prickle and mouths should pucker.

Often the challenge is that authors don’t have the vocabulary for or language of the senses, so it can be helpful to provide resources for them. WritersWrite.co.za has some great resources on describing all five senses. Here’s one.

We can also encourage the author to show the characters reacting to their senses: “The stench of putrefying flesh turned my stomach” versus “It smelled disgusting.” This is a matter of showing the character in the setting, not just posing in front of it.

More from Club Ed

The 2021 Club Ed Course Catalog is here! Instructor-led and self-paced classes for all editing levels.

And don’t forget to sign up for the Club Ed newsletter to learn about new classes, opportunities, and special deals.

Plus: The Club Ed Guide to Starting and Running a Profitable Freelance Editing Business is now available!