Updated: Jun 2, 2022
Deeper. Deeper. Deeper. Make it visceral. Make me forget my nationality, my family. Make me forget my own name. Drag me across the room and pin me to the chair. Don’t let me get up. Writers are the sex workers of thought, and with every intimate trade, there are certain, well, tricks. To take a scene deeper, pay attention to the five senses.
The first one is obvious. Feast first with the eyes; you’ve heard that one, right? Drag my gaze across your landscapes, the curves and valleys dipping, flowing, rolling. Don’t paint me a picture, force me to see, but keep it mysterious enough to let me fill in the beckoning gaps. Imagery should reveal just enough, only what’s needed to allure. The important bits, hints of vivacity thrumming behind the plot. Pick out the best attributes that capture the essence of your setting. Maybe it’s gritty, forceful, buildings that thrust into the sky proudly, as if challenging gods. Maybe it’s softer; hills lulling across, draped in green velvet. Imagery is the most necessary of the senses to include in a story. The difference between good imagery and mediocrity is the artful way you choose to guide the eye. Too chaotic and it’ll read as unpracticed, virginal. Too ambiguous, and you’ll damper the mood. If well done, this will set the tone that's needed for the next four skills.
Then, and only then, reach out to stroke. Tell me how the chair feels beneath my thighs, how my skin tingles against the soft fabric of my shirt. Make me squirm in discomfort against the abrasive heat of the air. Touch is the most subtle sense to sprinkle into writing. It’ll leave the reader wondering what drew them so close into the scene, why the story connected so intimately with their soul. The inherent subtlety is important to maintain here. Touch one part at a time until the apex of the story is found. Then we can talk about the urgency and importance of overwhelming the senses.
Let me breathe in that distinct, intoxicating scent as we draw nearer. Whether it’s the perfume of new grass after a long rain or the heady scent of an old city street after midnight, the scent will trigger the strongest of the senses, hook, line, and sinker. Use this as sparingly as important details allow. If a setting or person is important, throw in the scent to artfully and sneakily plant a lasting impression. A mention later on in the story will spring recall immediately, even more than a name. Scent requires intimacy, a familiarity that necessitates proximity.
Make it heavier. Load the scent until it’s deliciously close, until I want to taste. Scent and taste are closely linked, so the more you intermingle the two, the more explicit the scene becomes. This is a delicate balance; again, if you want to overwhelm, layer these thickly. If you want to welcome, tease, dance around an experience, use them like La Croix: a hint of flavor.
Lastly, brush your lips against my ear and whisper what you want to do. Dialogue covers this last sense for most stories. However, small mentions of ambient sounds can make passages more complete and full. Sounds are the polishing finish to an otherwise cohesive scene. They are the context clues of the senses. A pounding pulse in the ears suggests anxiety or anger without hitting the reader over the head with overwritten descriptions. The sound of tapping can impress the natural passage of time upon the reader. Sounds are the markers that writers usually try to explain. You might write, “She was angry for being forgotten and alone,” which makes the point, but it does a lot of telling. Instead, “The kettle screeched on as her heart thudded in her ears and through her bones,” makes the same point but pulls us closer into who and where this character is.
If all else fails and you need more examples, I will always, always recommend reading romance novels. A lot of fun has been poked at this genre, but it is a master class on how to pull a reader in through the use of senses. So much can be learned when reading of love and sex. No, I’m not joking. Romance novels strike that delicate balance between inundation and intoxication and it’s time we start giving it that credit.