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.

Sight

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.

Taste

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.

Touch

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.

Sound

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?

Maria

Food good enough to write about

I was raised in an Italian household where food was the focal point of family gatherings. Anyone who came to my house was offered something to eat, and you got looked at strangely if you didn’t want anything. “What? How can you not be hungry?” or “Just try a little piece of this.” Not that we forced anyone to eat, but usually the tantalizing smells got to you and you found yourself eating without even realizing it.

So it wasn’t a surprise when writing UNTANGLE MY HEART that my heroine was also of Italian descent. Rather than a catering business like my family had, the DiFrancesco’s owned a pizzeria and later, a trattoria. All the DiFrancesco men and women can cook. Mama Carmen’s specialty is lasagna and canolis. Kate’s is shrimp & pasta marinara and biscotti. Her baby brother, Vinnie, makes a mouth-watering veal parm. Mr. D is all about the pizza. Sister Vicky is the baker of the family and makes a to-die-for Italian cream cake (my personal fav). Oldest bro, Nick, makes veal marsala that could make you swoon!

There were certain foods you ate on certain days and for certain holidays. At Easter, there are breads, pies, cookies you only get at that time of year. Eating them is extra special because you know you’ll go an entire year before indulging in them again. The same goes for Christmas Eve and the Vigilia di Natale (Vigil of the Nativity or Feast of the Seven Fishes).

Today is St. Patrick’s Day, which we did not celebrate in my house growing up. I didn’t have corned beef until I was an adult. Now, my husband makes it and I like it (although I’ll skip the cabbage). And I certainly won’t refuse Irish soda bread or a hot toddy!
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