Setting: Techniques and Devices

Multisensory Descriptions

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There isn’t a writer alive who doesn’t believe description is important. We know that the key to pulling readers into our fictional worlds lies in how well we can describe each scene, giving it color and texture, and infusing it with emotion and substance. And one of the very best ways to achieve this is to use sensory detail: the sights, smells, tastes, textures, and sounds that our POV character or narrator experiences.

Emotion factors heavily in sensory description because the mindset of the POV character influences what he notices (which also determines what details the reader is privy to). A character sitting by a river to enjoy a happy, reflective moment after graduating university may be drawn to clusters of green shoots along the muddy bank that slant in the direction of the sun. He might note the sharp, clean scent of pine needles and how each breath makes him feel renewed. The give of moss, the gentle breeze, and the sound of the water chuckling across stones…all of these details may lull him (and the reader) into a sleepy state of satisfied bliss.

However, a character dropping behind an uprooted tree along the riverbank to hide from his enemies would focus on different details: the poke and scrape of wood against his back and arms as he presses tight against the fan of roots. The cold river water seeping into his shoes as they sink in the mud—which reeks of decay. The snap of branches, the shouts of his pursuers, the squeezing rush of his own shuddering breaths.


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