Engaging the senses in your writing

I was talking with my eleven year old son the other day and he was explaining in great detail about these people who I later learned are from the fictional online gaming world of Wizard 101. This isn’t the first time he’s done it, either. Both my kids regularly refer to characters from TV shows or electronic games as though they’re real. It drives both me and my husband crazy.

But then I started thinking that isn’t this what writers look for when we craft our stories? We want the characters to feel so real to the reader that they could be someone you know—or would like to know. Or could imagine falling in love with. Who doesn’t want to get that little catch in your gut like the heroine does when the hero gives her a smoldering glance?

How do you write to fully engage your reader?

Here are some examples of how to use your five senses to bring your reader into the story. These excerpts are from the partially edited second book in my Tangled Hearts series, Forever In My Heart, which will be coming out soon.


Vicky bit into a forkful of baked ziti and reveled in the divine combination of garlic, basil, tomatoes, ricotta, and mozzarella cheeses along with the slight bite of red pepper.


Back in the main room, Maggie poured his coffee, and he took it along with a cinnamon bun to his usual table by the window. Slathering the top with butter, he took a huge bite into a sticky explosion of brown sugar laced dough.

Sight and Smell

Her dark brown hair was pulled back in a high ponytail. A few strands escaped and curled against her neck. She smelled like berries, apples, and cinnamon and he had to fight the urge to reach out and see if she tasted as good.


He reached out and touched her arm. A spark jumped between them. She must have felt it, too, because she jolted. All these years and his blood still heated up being near her.


Surprised, she cried out and acted on pure instinct—or stupidity. She elbowed him in the gut. He grunted a moment before the gun clanked to the gun. She attempted to step aside, but her assailant grabbed her arm and punched her in the jaw. It wasn’t a strong punch, but it caused her to gasp for breath. Grabbing the cake carrier, she swiveled and smashed him in the head. He yelped and fell, swearing when he hit the hard ground.


In case you can’t tell, there are lots of food references in Forever In My Heart. I leveraged my Italian background in my story and enjoyed creating what I hope are scenes that make the reader imagine being inside Vicky’s café or at least make you crave something decadent. 🙂

Cinnamon buns anyone?

While writing this post, I did realize I shy away describing sounds in my story. It’s given me a renewed energy look for ways to go into more depth as I continue with my edits.

What tips do you have to engage your reader in the story?


Leave a comment


  1. Oh man, those cinnamon buns… What a description! 😀

  2. nessa1313

     /  July 8, 2014

    I definitely want sticky buns. I could see the electricity jump between your characters. Writing practice with the senses is one of my favorite exercises.

  3. Great descriptions! This is something I’m struggling with. This book looks so good. Definitely keep going with your Italian background!

    • Hi Nia/Antonia. I really love this story and building a series that combines family, friendship and falling in love. I’ll be looking for other areas to deepen the connection between the characters and readers. Good luck practicing your descriptions!

  4. Jaye Marie Rome

     /  July 8, 2014

    Yum, cinnamon buns! I always want one!

    I love how you incorporate your Italian background, and especially food, into your writing! You really bring us a slice of that life.


  5. I hear you, Maria! (Pun intended). I always love how you passion for food comes alive in your writing. My mouth is watering after your excerpts.

    Whenever I am stuck on a scene and its not ringing true, one of the first things I look at is sensory images. The most overused being SIGHT…and then touch.

    Sound can be fun to include. Adding onamonapia too. Here’s some examples folks: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Onamonapia

    Great post, Maria!

    • Hi Michele. I need to work on sound. I’m more visual in natural and always think sight first and with this book, taste! thanks for the link.

  6. Great post, Maria. Engaging the senses can take our writing to a higher level. It’s also one of my favorite writing exercises. The food references in your book were great and I could almost taste that sticky bun!

    • Hi Tina. For me, food is probably the easiest (and funnest) way to engage the senses. I’m already wishing I had a sticky bun in the house.

  7. Jenna Blue

     /  July 8, 2014

    My kids (especially my younger one) is forever launching into detailed stories about tv or movie characters. Like you, it drives me nuts. Maybe with your thought about wanting our Reading Audience to feel our characters and settings are real, I will be able to look at it as a positive–like, those actors or those script writers have really done their jobs well! : ) Thanks, Maria!

    • Hi Jenna. I agree that the actors/script writers are doing their job well! As frustrating as it is for us, as parents, it’s a compliment to them.

  8. Excellent post, Maria! I know we’ve talked about this, but I love how writing with our senses can throw us right into the middle of our story. Like when sticky buns and cheddar burgers hijack our meals! Your descriptions are perfect and something all writers should remember. When in doubt, engage your senses 🙂

    • Hi Kristina. I love a good juicy burger, especially this time of year when we can grill them. And writing descriptive takes our one dimensional writing and makes it two dimensional. Thanks for stopping by.

  9. Diana Quincy

     /  July 11, 2014

    Thanks for sharing. Now I’m hungry!

    I really enjoy how you incorporate food and your Italian background into your stories. It grounds the story and gives it a richness and sense of authenticity.

  10. RoseAnn DeFranco

     /  July 19, 2014

    All great reminders, Maria! Engaging the senses really puts the reader present in a book. Since I have not eaten sweets in two weeks, this post was a killer, esp. since cinnamon buns are among my favorites!!!!


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