Writing with the 5 senses: a trip to the local cafe
This author uses a trip to her local coffee shop as an example of how to connect with your surroundings and ignite your senses, so you can engage readers’ minds on multiple levels of sensory realism.
by Kim Lengling
Your words have power. Let’s dive into how you can bring your reader into your story as if they have taken your hand and you are guiding them on a journey.
Before you begin writing, take a minute to look around. It doesn’t matter where you are: in your home, a coffee shop, or a park—take a good look at your surroundings.
Let all your senses be open and aware of your surroundings; this is called sensory imagery.
Many writers use this technique to engage a reader’s mind on multiple levels. Sensory imagery uses the five human senses: sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell. Using this technique helps a writer bring their story to life.
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We’ve all read a book where we feel as if we were there, within the pages, hanging out with the characters, getting to know them, and feeling a personal connection.
Now take another look at that book. Look where you can find examples of the author using their five senses. It’s a great exercise to practice, and fun too!
Right now, though, let’s take ourselves to a local outdoor cafe in the city, get ourselves a cup of coffee, and get our senses fired up!
There are many things to see on a busy city street. What do you see as you sit at your table? Look at the different people walking by. What are they wearing? Do they look happy, sad, or indifferent? What does the table you are sitting at look like?
Cities are filled with sounds: traffic, footsteps, cooing pigeons, car horns, doors opening and closing, people talking, and on and on.
What are you hearing as you sit at your table? Can you hear the espresso machine brewing the next cuppa? Do you hear someone having a heated conversation on their cell phone two tables over? Maybe you listen to yourself slurping your coffee because it is still too warm to drink.
Can you hear the espresso machine brewing the next cuppa? The heated conversation on a cell phone two tables over? Or maybe you hear yourself slurping your coffee because it’s still too warm to drink.
Oh, the scents of a city! Heck, the smell from the cafe and the coffee you hold in your hand! Glorious!
Close your eyes and see what other things you smell. Can you smell the exhaust of the bus that just passed or the heavy perfume the woman at the next table is wearing? Oh! What about the hot pretzel vendor half a block down? Can you smell that? Yum!
The coffee you are holding in your hand—you’ve been looking forward to it for an hour, and now you are sitting in your chair, ready to have that first sip. What does your coffee taste like? Did you put creamer in, or did you order a fancy-schmancy coffee? If it were me, I would have ordered a lovely almond biscotti dipped in chocolate to accompany my coffee. Yum!
Whoa! Hot! The server neglected to put one of those cardboard covers on your cup, and you almost dropped your cup of java.
What else can you feel as you sit blowing on your coffee to cool it down? Sure, your fingers feel burnt, but what else? Is there a brisk breeze in the air that you can feel land on your cheeks? That chilly kind of breeze that makes the coffee look, smell, and taste even better. Is the table cold? Is your napkin scratchy or soft?
Now wasn’t that a pleasant visit to the cafe? Thanks for coming along with me!
The next time you write, try to use vivid descriptions, and then ask yourself why they are important. You’ll be surprised at what you begin noticing.
Whether you have been writing for years or just starting your journey, using your five senses is a great exercise to get your creative juices flowing and to bring your readers into your story to show them what is going on. It opens your world and the world you are building for your readers.
Now I am off to get myself a fresh cup of coffee!
Kim Lengling is a multi-published author, writer, podcast host of Let Fear Bounce, and TV show host of The Write Stuff, The Authors Voice with the Believe In Your Dreams TV Network. In addition, she is an active speaker sharing her story of being a female veteran living with PTSD and spreading a message of hope. Kim regularly speaks for local veteran and women’s organizations in her hometown area and across numerous global organizations.
Connect with Kim and learn more at her website.
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