The Five Senses: Hear, Sight, Touch, Smell, Taste

Kathleen Delaney with BooksKathleen Delaney, author of Murder Half Baked and other books, retired from real estate to pursue writing full time. She’s here today to share some thoughts about the importance of our five senses.

I often wake up to a concert outside my bedroom window. It’s warm here in the early spring and summer and I can leave the windows open all night. I love the feel of the cool air that comes in toward morning, and I love the advent of dawn when the stillness of night is broken by the uneven chorus of tons of birds. It usually starts a little earlier than I plan to wake up, so I lay there, thinking how pleasant it is, how glad I am to be able to hear it. Which, of course, got me to thinking about all of our senses.

We take them for granted. Birds singing? What a lovely way to wake up. Bread baking in the oven? I breathe deeply to savor it. It’s out of the oven and ready to cut, to slather with butter. My mouth waters just thinking how it will taste. It’s spring. I take my still warm bread with me into the garden. My roses are budding out. The beauty of that first bud takes my breath away, as does its sweet fragrance. So does the softness of my granddaughter’s cheek as I run my finger over it when I hold her in my arms. It never occurs to me to think what my life might be like without one of my senses.

It never occurred to me to think what my life might be like without a leg, either, but I’ve had no choice but to face that reality.  However, learning to live with that loss has made me think what it might be like to be without a lot of other things I’ve always taken for granted. It’s been a worthwhile process. I’ve slowed down some, but that’s been good. We miss so much when we rush. I’ve started to notice things I barely glanced at before.  I’ve also noticed things that are sometimes missing in my writing and in the writing of others. The 5 senses.

Murder Half BakedIf the characters in our books are going to live and breathe, they need senses as much as we do. So why, in many of the books I’ve read lately, do they seem to be missing?  We rely on our senses to tell us things, important things. Our sense of smell triggers memories, both good and bad. We establish a sense of place in the world through our sight. Taste can both encourage us to eat food that nourishes us and protect us from food which has spoiled. Touch can be many things, sensual, tactile, alerting us to danger. Hearing enables us to communicate. Right now you’re saying they do more than that, and they do. So, why are so many characters in books allowed none? Or perhaps I should say, allowed to be aware of none.  If they see, they don’t share it with the reader. The people they watch, the sun shining through the trees, the sea of red tail lights on the freeway at night, none makes an impression on these cardboard people. Neither does the discordant symphony of rush hour traffic. We have no idea how touching someone makes them feel. Well, sometimes we do but it usually has nothing to do with small children and tenderness.

Our five senses are our connection to the world. They guide us through our ever day activities and establish our boundaries of communication. We would be bereft without them.

If we rob the characters in our books of them, so are they.

5 thoughts on “The Five Senses: Hear, Sight, Touch, Smell, Taste

  1. Sensory information is what allows readers to enter and inhabit the settings in our stories. I dedicate an entire pass in the revision process to making sure I have enough to make my fictional worlds as real as they can be. While I’m at that, I also check to see if I’ve piled in too much sensory information when the action is so fast that characters wouldn’t logically be able to experience and respond as they would in quieter scenes.

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  2. Thoughtful post, Ms. Delaney. We as well as our characters need to appreciate all the senses we have. It does enrich the reading and help us be in story when we experience all the senses. Thanks.

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  3. When I write, I try to be aware of smells, tastes and ambient sounds in the background. It’s the details that make a scene come alive. Thanks for reminding us of the importance of the five sense.

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