Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Four Secrets of Sensory Detail: Making Your Writing Come Alive by Noelle Marchand

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”  - Anton Chekhov

As a child, one of my favorite things to do was to get swept away in a new book. It was like holding an entirely new world right in my hands, traveling to places I could only dream of going, witnessing moments that had long passed away. Eventually, I wasn’t content with just experiencing these things. I wanted to create them. But, how?

That is the question I ask myself over and over. How do I make this real? How do I make this world, this character, this plot a living, breathing thing so lush and transporting that it makes the real world fade away? The answer is in the details.

We experience the world through our senses. What we see, feel, taste, smell, and hear as well as our interpretation of it form our perception, therefore, our reality. The same goes for fiction. So how do we make our writing come alive?

We shape reality through specific sensory detail. Again, how? In my fourteen years of writing, I’ve discovered a few fail-safe methods that help me render the world in my imagination onto the page. Here they are. My four secrets of sensory detail.

1.  Start with research.

We can’t make your setting real unless it’s real to us. Real also means authentic. I would add to that mix the word “accurate”. The best way to find sensory detail is to learn more about what already exists in the world we’re creating.

2. Find your perspective.

Now that we have the facts, we must interpret them though the senses of our characters. This determines not only how we describe the details we’ve gathered, but which of those details to include. Remember, every character will have their own unique way of perceiving the world. This includes their emotional state.

3. Let it flow.

If we aren’t careful, descriptive passages can weigh down the narrative. Superfluous, expounding adjectives are not what we are looking for here. Sensory detail is targeted. It clarifies action and setting.

4. Be creative!

Give yourself a measure of freedom. Sensory details are the paint. Your canvas is the manuscript. The brush is your imagination. Have fun with it. Experiment.

I hope these secrets spurred your imagination. Use these tips. Add to them. Keep questioning “how” and find the answers that work best for you. To see how I use sensory detail in my own work, check out any of my books—especially my most recent ones where I’ve tried to make it more of a focus.

Happy writing!


Do you have a particular process for adding in those sensory details that make the story come alive for the reader?


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Noelle Marchand is an award-winning author and a proud Texas-native. She enjoys spending time with family, dancing, and going on daytrips.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, Noelle! I love to be immersed in a story rich with sensory detail, so it's a focus for me when I write--although I still have to be very intentional about it. I usually write a chapter and include whatever sensory details come to mind, but then I go back over the chapter and try to see, hear, feel, etc. the scenes as the character would and layer necessary details.

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