Write a better scene in 5,4,3,2,1

Incorporating the five senses into your writing

A year ago, someone shared with me a grounding technique. We all have our methods to bring ourselves back to the present moment, and this exercise focuses on using the five senses to reconnect with the immediate environment.

First, arrange yourself into a comfortable position. Relax your breathing. Quieten the brain chatter as best you can.

Bring your focus to your surroundings and mentally note:

  • 5 things you can see
  • 4 things you can hear
  • 3 things you can smell
  • 2 things you can touch
  • 1 thing you can taste

Despite my attempts to quieten my brain, a random thought will still pop up. During one session, my brain lit up. Hey, this technique can help my writing!

Our experience of the world is not purely visual. As writers, we tap into all five senses when we create a setting. Consider how a scent or a piece of music evokes powerful memories for you. Using the five senses helps the reader fully immerse themselves in our worlds.

However, there is always a counterargument. Less is sometimes more. Books would become bloated and stifle the plot if the writer kept noting everything the main character could see, hear, smell, touch and taste. It is the skill of knowing what will create the best impact on the reader. It may be a full assault on the senses or a concise tease which hints enough to the reader so they can fill in the blanks.

By reworking this grounding exercise as a writing exercise, a writer can quickly grab the crucial senses in any scene setting. If you’re good at visualising your scenes, you can close your eyes and immerse yourself in the experience.

Example Setting: The Beach.

5 things the character can see: Blue sky. The sun sparkling on the sea. Breaking waves. A surfer riding a wave. A family of four setting up a windbreaker and laying out towels.

4 things the character can hear: The sea. A lifeguard over a tannoy telling swimmers to keep between the flags. Dogs barking. Children’s voices as they play along the shoreline.

3 things the character can smell: The sea. Suntan lotion. Smoke from a BBQ.

2 things the character can touch: The sand between their toes. The spare change in the pocket of their jeans.

1 thing the character can taste: Vanilla from the ice cream they have just consumed.

Here, we get a general overview of the beach. But we also glimpse into the character’s perception of the surroundings. Reality is all about our perception. What one person notices, another may not. Also, the same person will notice things differently depending on their physical and emotional state. If, for example, you’re irritable, your senses will look for things to feed it.

Have you found this exercise helpful? For writing or grounding? Do you have any methods to create rich scenes? Please drop me a reply.

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