Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Mark Murata - Use All Five Senses

Use all five senses when telling a story. I use my piece of flash fiction for the First Campaigner contest as an example (though you can understand my descriptions without reading it).

Sight is normally assumed to be used for almost any description, since that’s how we get the majority of our sensory input. I had spikes and fangs protruding from the shadow of a creature, which gives added detail. Also, leather armor on the elbows and knees of a man and woman allows the reader to visualize them.

Many make the mistake of only adding visual details. I added the sense of hearing by a man rasping as he speaks, and there’s even a death rattle, for those familiar with the concept.

I would have added what the aerosol in the story smells like, but I was challenged to put the word “orange” in, so it ended up as a visual detail—orange as a smell would be too sweet for the scene.

I kind of cheat when it comes to the sense of touch by having the main character claw at his buckle and hammer at some latches. I do not say what these objects feel like, but it gives the impression that they’re hard.

The sense of taste is the most difficult. If the person is not eating, I improvise. The air might taste bitter, or a woman might catch a bit of her hair in her mouth, the taste reflecting the environment. Or there is the concept of a bitter taste in the mouth or the taste of gall. But if those are too cliché, I readily substitute any internal sensation (which, when you think about it, is the overall category that taste falls in). In this case, the man rasps when he speaks (which covers both hearing and internal sensation) and his muscles jitter. Internal sensations include internal temperature (as compared to external, which counts as touch), sense of balance, all sorts of stomach and muscle sensations, sensations inside the head or jaw, etc.

The usual advice is to hit all five senses in the first two pages of a novel, then to hit them all again every five pages or so, though I’ve noticed successful writers don’t have to do it that frequently. It takes some practice so it doesn’t sound like you’re just going down a list, but it makes the story more vivid.

Find Mark At: Blog

About Mark Murata: I'm an aspiring writer of fantasy and science fiction. I tend to walk inside malls or go running outside for exercise. And yes, that's a picture of Dr. McCoy on my T-shirt. So far, I've had a short story published in the Star Trek Strange New Worlds V anthology. I keep on submitting novel manuscripts to agents and editors, in hope of getting published.


  1. Your novels seem a sensual treat Mark. Thanks for sharing your tips.


  2. Fantastic tips, Mark. I need to use more smells in my writing.

    1. Me too. I don't think I insert smells that often because my sense of smell is crap.

  3. This is such great advice! Thanks so much for hosting.

  4. This is great, I'm terrible at missing some of the senses in my - admittedly very sparse - description. Thanks for the reminder.