Using The Five Senses Makes Good Sense

by Pamela S. Meyers

Every year around this time the air around my midwestern region becomes fragrant with the scent of lilacs. This lasts for about a week—maybe two—before the blooms fade and we have to wait another year to enjoy the sweet scent.

Whenever I take in a deep breath and smell that scent I am taken back to my fourth grade classroom on an unusually humid and warm spring day. All the windows were open and the heady scent of lilacs filled the classroom. I remember breathing in that wonderful fragrance and loving it more every time. There was nothing like it back then, and to me, there isn’t anything like it today.

A long row of lilac bushes line the road across from my condo parking lot and I sometimes walk over to sniff up close and personal because I know in a few day’s time they will disappear. Maybe it’s their brief appearance that makes them so appealing. But, whatever it is, it is a strong example of how much including elements of the five senses in our stories deepens the POV and draws the reader into the story.

Right now I’m in the process of editing Love Finds You in Lake Geneva, a book that released in 2013. I’ve recently received my rights back and will be republishing it soon under a new title, Surprised by Love in Lake Geneva. The end of the story takes place in May and I’m excited to add the fragrance of lilacs to a scene. Why didn’t I do that the first time around? I have no idea, but isn’t it fun when you get a second chance to make something better?

No matter what the season your stories take place, be sure to bring in as many of the five senses as possible. The smell of a burning fireplace as your character walks outside on a cold winter’s night. If it is during summer, the scent of suntan oil on a hot beach, or the scent of freshly mown grass. When I think of fall, the aroma of pumpkin pie baking in the oven conjures of memories of Thanksgivings past. If your story is a historical, the distinct smell of burning leaves, would add depth. Many communities today ban the burning of leaves and some readers may not have ever smelled them. If you use this, be sure to describe them in a way that the reader can relate.

We need to be adding one or two of the five senses to our scenes wherever possible. In an office setting, the sound of phones ringing, a copy machine churning out paper, the clacking sound of a keyboard (or typewriter if your story is set before computers were an office mainstay). Touch can be used to describe the feel of a cat’s soft fur, or the roughness of a man’s whiskered cheek if you are writing romance. Sight comes in the form of descriptions of what your POV character sees. Taste is the fifth sense and sometimes is hard to convey, but it can be done

In the comments below, share some examples of how you or an author you’ve read has incorporated one of the senses.

Meanwhile, I’d better run outside for one more sniff before the lilacs disappear till next year!


Anative of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, author Pamela S. Meyers lives in suburban Chicago with her two rescue cats. Her novels include Thyme for Love and her 1933 historical romance, Love Finds You in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Love is All We Need (the sequel to Thyme for Love) will release soon, and Second Chance Love from Bling!, an imprint of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas, will release in January 2017. When she isn’t at her laptop writing her latest novel, she can often be found nosing around Wisconsin and other Midwestern spots for new story ideas.