sensory language Archives - Write a Nonfiction Book with The Book Professor

Tag Archives: sensory language

  • 0

Writing Tips: Show Me The Details

Tags : 

I happen to reside in what is known as the “Show Me” state. When I first heard that slogan, I didn’t get it. Show me, what? After a little research, I later found that the slogan was derived from Willard Duncan Vandiver, a Missouri Congressman, during a speech he gave in 1899. He said, “I come from a state that raises corn and cotton and cockleburs and Democrats, and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me” (Source).

In other words, Missourians are not gullible. Don’t just tell us. If you want us to believe, you need to show us the truth through facts and evidence.

It’s funny. My state’s slogan reminds me of one of the most basic directives in writing: Show, don’t tell! I’m certain you’ve heard that phrase before, so today I want to dive in and explore how to do that by using descriptive details in your writing.

Here’s a quote that I really love, because it sums up the difference between boring writing and really good writing:

sensory language

A couple of months ago, we wrote an article about the importance of sensory language. Sensory language is just what it sounds like – it’s the language of our five senses. When you use sensory language, you describe what you saw, felt, heard, tasted, and smelled. You don’t write, “I was sad when my girlfriend left me.” You write, “When she told me she was leaving, she smiled as she whispered the words, ‘I’m leaving you.’ My throat clamped tight. I blinked hard, so I wouldn’t cry, but one hot tear fell and salted my upper lip.”

In this passage, you find four of the five senses: She told me–hearing; throat clamped tight and hot tear–feeling; she smiled–sight; she whispered–hearing; salted my upper lip–taste. The only sense not included is the sense of smell.

Sensory language punches up your writing and engages the reader. It breaks up the monotony and helps the reader to visualize the scene so they can experience it.

Sensory language IS the details.

When you add detail to your writing, you ARE like a painter.

Words are your paint, and you can use all the colors!

Writing in detail takes time, but not as much as you might think. There are a lot of resources for learning how to do this, but my favorite is the book Bird by Bird  by Anne Lamott. This is a classic in the world of writers and well worth having on your bookshelf. I want to share a couple of snippets from the book that have helped me in my own writing.

Anne Lamott encourages writers to look at their world in small sections, the size of a one-inch picture frame. “All I have to do is write down as much as I can see through a one-inch picture frame, she says. That sounds easy enough, doesn’t it?

And when you’re frenzied about how much you need to write, step back and look through that one-inch picture frame.

“All we’re going to do for now is to write a description of the river at sunrise, or the young child swimming in the pool at the club, or the first time the man sees the woman he will marry.”

That’s it. Construct the details of your book by looking through these small windows. And when you look through small windows, you see a lot more minutiae, like the curved crack etched in the sidewalk, or the one green pea that rolled under the table, or the rim of grease under his fingernails.

Details make the difference, so show them to your readers!

Ready to get started? Sign up for an online writing class and get your book out!

 

 


  • 0

Nonfiction Writer Tool: Sensory Language

Tags : 

Human beings are wired to respond to stories, and we remember things that have an emotional impact on us. When you write your book, there’s a nonfiction writer tool you can use to impact the reader. It affects them on an emotional level, so they will remember what they read.

How do you do that? Well, it’s not so complicated. One way to impact your reader is to bring them in close, to make them feel like they’re right there in the room with you. You do that by creating scenes that use the nonfiction writer tool of sensory language.

Sensory language as a nonfiction writer tool

Sensory language is just what it sounds like – it’s the language of our five senses. When you use sensory language, you describe what you saw, felt, heard, tasted, and smelled. You don’t write, “I was sad when my girlfriend left me.” You write, “When she told me she was leaving, she smiled as she whispered the words, ‘I’m leaving you.’ My throat clamped tight. I blinked hard, so I wouldn’t cry, but one hot tear fell and salted my upper lip.”

In this passage, you find four of the five senses: She told me–hearing; throat clamped tight and hot tear–feeling; she smiled–sight; she whispered–hearing; salted my upper lip–taste. The only sense not included is the sense of smell.

Sensory language punches up your writing and engages the reader. It breaks up the monotony and helps the reader to visualize the scene, so they can experience it.

Before and After

Take a look at the two passages below, and notice how sensory language makes a difference.

1. Becky called me and said that something terrible had just happened. She wanted to talk about it, so I asked her to meet me at the grill on the ground floor of my building. It was almost noon, and I was hungry, so I asked her if she wanted something to eat.

Compare that to:

2. “The police just barged in my house,” Becky said. “It was raining, and their boots tracked bits of grass and mud all over my white carpet. Didn’t even bother to wipe their feet. It’s like they used my carpet as a door mat. There were six of them.”

A piece of red hair – I Love Lucy red hair – escaped from behind her ear, and she slicked it back without taking a breath. My watch beeped twelve o’clock, but she yammered on. The grilling onions made my stomach lurch. I hadn’t eaten breakfast.

“Wow,” I said. “I’m so sorry. Can I get you something to eat? I could use a bite myself, and maybe that would make you feel better.”

Her head banged down on the table, and she hiccuped massive sobs. “What do you think I am, a twelve-year-old?” she sputtered. “It’s not like a snack can make me all better!”

Sensory language is a nonfiction writer tool that is easy to incorporate. All you have to do is describe what you hear, what you smell, what you see, what you feel, and what you taste. Drop those elements in a scene and watch your writing come alive!


Learn How to Write a Book