Skill 4.7: Sensory Details

We are limited in our understanding of the world. We have only five ways to know it, five ways to write about it: Visual (sight), Auditory (sound), Olfactory (smell), Tactile (Touch), Gustatory (Taste). We experience the world through our senses, and more importantly, your reader experiences a scene through your imparting of sensory details. Let’s take the paragraph I wrote earlier and examine what sensory details I added. You are seeing this store as John sees it, but he’s also depressed, so notice that words like cold, crack, sweaty, etc. help to convey John’s dark mood. I did not underline every sensory detail but rather highlighted some:

John kept his eyes (sight) on the cold (touch) gray sidewalk and stepped on every crack (touch). He swung open the glass door (touch) of the 7-Eleven. A bell rang (sound), alerting the clerk to his presence. The attendant offered a cheery “Good evening, Sir,” (sound) in an Indian accent (detail/sound), which John promptly ignored as he dragged his feet past the candy and chips to get to the drink case. It had to be after midnight (temporal detail—giving time), but he wasn’t exactly sure, since he’d wandered the streets ever since leaving the year-end dance. He could smell the stink of gymnasium sweat on his clothes. He pressed his forehead (touch) to the cold (touch) glass. It reminded him of Christine’s icy words, “You’re a loser, John. You have been since the third grade. Face it.” That wasn’t so bad. But saying it in front of her posse of fellow princesses and various admirers drained the life out of him with each peel of laughter that rang out (sound) around him. Dance. He’d danced with her in third grade. Dreamed of it ever since. Spent every year of high school building up the courage to ask her again. This was his last shot. He’d practiced for days. “Christine, will you dance with me?” He’d narrowed it down to her name and five simple words. His first attempts included, “Christine, can I have this dance. Please. It would mean so much to me. Really.” He even thought of joking, “Take pity on the nerd. I’ll be forever grateful.” He’d selected a blue shirt and dark slacks just as meticulously, daubed his hair with yellow gel (touch/sight) and spiked his bangs over his forehead, wore contacts to show off his blue eyes and patted (touch) on just a hint of his dad’s aftershave, despite the fact he’d never shaved.

The cold air (touch) bit his skin as he opened the glass door and grabbed the jug of skim milk. He peeled the cap away and downed (taste) a quarter of the jug. He grabbed a bag of M&Ms from the candy aisle as he headed to the counter. To avoid any further cheeriness, he plunked a twenty dollar bill and the ticket to the dance on the counter and headed to the door.

“Your change, Sir. Your. . . She is not worthy of you, Sir!”

John turned to face the clerk, a gray-bearded man wearing a blue turban and holding the ticket.

“A worthy companion waits for you, Sir Do not keep her waiting. Go, find her.”

“Keep the change.” John slipped into the bold black night and eyed the multitudinous stars. He swigged from the jug. “To you, Christine, the dullest star in my sky. And to you, unknown girl of my future, the brightest.”

Go to Skill 4.8: Flashback vs Information Dump


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