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Setting - Using All Five Senses (With Word lists)

Nowadays, some writers tend to forget there’s more to describing a setting than just mentioning what it looks like. Using all five senses when describing your setting makes it more believable, more real, more relevant. It makes the reader feel like they’re there too.

If your setting isn’t very important, you don’t need to describe it, but keep in mind that real people behave differently in different environments, and therefore your scene’s setting will influence the behavior of your character. If your reader understands the setting, it’ll be easier for them to understand your characters. 

Describing a setting using all five sentences makes description less dull and boring. It won’t seem like you’re dumping information on your reader; they’ll feel involved in the process of getting to know the place of your action.

Sight

Using sight to describe the colors and shapes of objects is  important. In fact, these are some of the properties of objects that other senses can’t capture. However, it’s interesting to try and use words that would normally be associated to other senses to describe the appearance of objects, like soft or warm colors.

Don’t let sight be the most important part of the setting. It’s more important how your characters perceive their surroundings, and therefore you could use sight to describe their feelings towards the appearance of some objects. 

Check this list of words to describe sight. 

Hearing

Describing things through what they sound (or would sound) like is an interesting exercise. Even pure silence could sound like something to your character; in fact, some people say silence is one of the most peaceful sounds.

Usually, there are background noises everywhere. If you’re on the countryside, you’re likely to hear birds tweeting or the wind whistling. If you’re in the city you’re likely to hear cars passing by and ambulances and music coming from your neighbor’s house.

Showing the reader how your characters react to the noises around them could be interesting too, because it could reveal some details about their personalities. 

Check this list of words to describe sound.

Smell

Smells are often associated with fond (or not so fond) memories, which may be one more opportunity for you to show how your character reacts to the setting and what their reaction says about their personality. Explain the readers the situations where your character has experienced that scent before and try to tell them exactly what it smells like: it could be fruity or flowery, smell like wood or fresh rain. Even the most unthinkable objects could smell like something and it’s definitely interesting to get into that. 

If this is a completely new smell to your character, make them try to understand what it is and if that scent reminds them of anything they have ever smelled. 

Check this list of words to describe smell.

Taste

Your character doesn’t need to be eating something to be reminded of what it tastes (or would taste) like. Describing settings through taste normally works better if you’re using the way your character perceives the place to make the reader understand it. Seeing sea water may remind your character how it is salty, and if you mention that in your description, your readers might actually feel like they’re tasting sea water.

Sometimes, certain smells can bring specific flavors to our mouths. Associating smell and taste descriptions can be an interesting exercise and it would probably work well, when well done.

Check this list of words to describe taste

 Feeling

This is definitely one of the most interesting ways to describe objects. Your character doesn’t need to touch every single object to know what they would feel like. A tiny, thin mattress would probably be hard and give you back pain. That way, if you described it as being a hard mattress, your readers would probably understand it wasn’t very comfortable. 

Textures are really interesting things to describe, as there are so many different things you could say about them. Are the objects soft? Are they malleable? Are they elastic? Describing objects’ textures will make your reader feel closer to the action. 

Check this list of words to describe texture.

Try to play around with your senses. Work with words that would normally be associated with a different sense than the one you’re using. Describing the evening air as soft will tell your readers that it’s warm outside and not very humid. 

Using all five senses to describe your setting makes your reader have a better perception of what surrounds your characters and paint a more accurate picture in their heads. 

For further reading on the matter, check this link:

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