Tuesday, May 11, 2010

How to Make Your Writing Come to Life

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by C. Patrick Schulze

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Have you ever gone to a park on a clear spring day, sat on a bench and closed your eyes? Doesn’t the world change when you do? The sound of children laughing seems to dance into your consciousness. The leaves begin to sing with the breeze and the sun teases your skin with a warm glow. Why hadn’t you noticed this before?

Because when you close your eyes, you become dependent upon your other senses.

So, too, is should be with your writing.

When we write, our goal is to transport our readers to another world, one in which they have never, and can never visit. To make your writing come alive, write in the same manner you experienced that day on the park bench; with your senses. Some say you have as many as twelve senses, but we’ll stick with the basic five for today’s article.

Of course, the primary sense we use in life and in writing is sight. If you read any novel, it will be loaded with imagery that involves how things appear. The secret to make your writing come alive, however, is found in the combination of sight and the other four senses.

In my opinion, the unsung king of our senses is smell. It is the gateway to our memory and can transport you anywhere; mom’s kitchen, the market in Marrakesh or your first grade school room. It is, therefore, a powerful tool to enhance your novel’s imagery. The problem with smell is it’s the most difficult of the senses to imagine. The trick then is to add visual elements to your “smell” narrative. For example, if you wish to portray a beach scene, if you add the sun, the water, the cry of gulls and so on, the sense of smell is better employed. Another useful aspect to the sense of smell is the wide range of odors available to the writer. It’s use ranges from a stench to a perfume and everywhere in between.

Another sense that carries a great deal of association is taste and is often used in conjunction with the sense of smell. Taste is also easily employed to delve into a character’s emotions and can be as powerful as smell in evoking a reader’s reaction.

Hearing is, of course, a primary tool in your arsenal of weapons to bring your writing to life. Its power comes to light when you wish to create atmosphere. Think of that scene on a beach mentioned above and imagine how it is altered if waves crash upon the shore or lap against the sand. As with all senses, it has a wide range of applications from the crushing boom of waves during a storm to the soft buzz of a hummingbird’s wings. Here’s a tip you don’t hear too often. To create the best action verbs, combine hearing with touch.

Last, but certainly not least, is the sense of touch. This sense carries with it the language of love and of loathing. It, too, has a great depth of emotions and feelings.

The real secret of how to bring your writing to life is to combine the senses in the correct combination. The use of too much sensory imagery can overload your reader and shock or even bore him. You should consider the use of all five senses every time you have the opportunity but find the correct and timely combination of some of them to bring true life to your writing.

One way to determine which senses to employ with any given scene is to return to our park bench. Close your eyes and imagine your setting. What senses jump out to you first when you do this? Scribble a few words that relate to this image because these are probably the senses to use for that scene. After this, choose the most powerful two or three images that came to mind and then ensure you use the strongest and most specific words to describe the scene. By the way, this is the time for metaphors and similes.

The secret to writing that comes alive is the combination of senses your readers can imagine from your words. Without a healthy dose of sensory narrative, your novel will most likely lack the propulsion it needs to send it up the best seller list.

Do you care to share how you’ve enhanced your sensory writing skills?

Until we speak again, know I wish for you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers”


  1. Fantastic post! I love your idea of closing your eyes and connecting with my senses. Will definitely use that. I'm also going to put this post into our This Week for Writers post on Friday!

  2. Thank you so much. I'm flattered you'd use my article to help others learn.