Tips for Using the 5 Senses

ACFW Advice, Authors and writing, Characters, Friends of ACFW, Showing/Telling, tips, writing 2 Comments

by Ane Mulligan

Sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste create experiential fiction, a story so in-the-moment, the reader hears, smells, and tastes what the characters do.

To do that, we want to show the action. Here are some tips for you.

Remember to make the descriptions organic to your character. If you protagonist is a musician, her similes will be musical. If she’s an artist or designer, she’d use colors and artistic terms. A totally left-brained engineer thinks in entirely different terms to a right-brained creative. If your heroine is a designer, have her think the client blushed Strawberry Sorbet.


Let the reader see what the character does. Don’t tell us she saw a meadow beside a serene lake. Take the reader there: Lainie stepped off the road and into the tall grass, made greener by the recent rain. In the breeze, mustard flowers waved their yellow heads in welcome. Her hand instinctively lifted to wave back. As she moved through the meadow, the still waters in the lake invited her to dip her toes.

If possible, make the scene a metaphor for the story question or your character’s lie.


To write the character heard a noise does nothing to involve our readers. But: The floor creaked behind her gives an immediate desire to turn your head to see who or what is there. Either that or run.

Use sound to foreshadow impending danger. As she jogged, the dry pine needles crunched beneath her feet. If it didn’t rain soon, they’d become kindling for a hungry forest fire.

Sound can create moods or transport your reader to another season and age. The nursery-rhyme jingle of the ice cream truck takes us all back to our childhood summers. Describe those sounds in terms to which readers will relate.


Even if you write speculative or Sci-fi, you can use smells that are familiar to everyone.

Claire stuck her head out the window and inhaled the fresh morning air. Eau d’Lake with its undertones of piney woods was her favorite perfume.

You know where she was without me telling you she’s at a mountain lake surrounded by a forest.


Every kid has sucked on a penny. Don’t tell me I’m the only one. I know I’m not because fear is often described as a copper taste. In my Chapel Springs series, the main characters begin their days at Dee’s ‘n’ Doughs, the local bakery. We all know the sugary snap of an apple fritter or a lemon tart. Use those most familiar to you and your readers.


This may be one of the most used of the senses. Done tell us how it felt, let the reader feel it: Sleet pelted down icy needles piercing her face and hands.

Using the 5 senses draws the reader into the experience of the story.  

Award-winning author Ane Mulligan writes Southern-fried fiction served with a tall, sweet tea. She’s a novelist and playwright. Her most recent release is Book 4 in the Chapel Springs Saga, Life in Chapel Springs. She believes chocolate and coffee are two of the four major food groups and lives in Sugar Hill, GA. You can find Ane at or Amazon author page.



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