Writing Tip 2: Using Sense Detail

Writing Tip 2: Using Sense Detail

Improve your writing by including sensory detail whenever you can.

Imagine you’re selling a house, and want to emphasise the view. You could say,

“Enjoy the wonderful view from all rooms in the house.”

Or you could say, ”From the snow-tipped Kawekas to patchwork fields, to the Tuki Tuki river weaving its way towards the sea, there are panoramic views from every window.

The first sentence tells us there’s a view. The second helps us imagine it for ourselves. The difference? The second uses sense details – in this case, sight.

Adding sense details connects your reader to their own senses, which connects them to your writing through their sense memory. This is useful in any business. A plumber might use sound and touch like this in an ad:

“Sick of the drip, drip drip of that leaky tap? Want a shower that doesn’t go from icy cold to molten heat, and back? Call us!”

And if you’re writing a memoir, or a poem, or a novel, then sense details become not just useful, but essential. Look at this brilliant piece of character writing:

China Miéville: This Census-Taker

“A haggard man used one of the huts as a home. He lay on a sagging mattress, his head on his pack, surrounded by rubbish – paper, porcelain shards, food remains and unidentifiable debris. His hand was over his eyes. He looked like a failed soldier. Dirt seemed so worked into him that the lines of his face were like writing.” 

In that short paragraph, Miéville makes us see the man and feel how he lies uncomfortably. We can smell the rubbish, taste the old food. It’s a powerful and memorable description.

The content of Mieville’s description could be summarised as: ‘The homeless man was exhausted.’ The words ‘homeless’ and ‘exhausted’, like ‘wonderful’ from my first example, act like a short cut. When writing, try taking the scenic view instead.

Want to learn more? Need writing ideas or help with your writing skills?

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