One way to make an impact on your readers is to invite them right into the room with you – bring them in close by crafting scenes that rely on sensory language.
Human beings are wired to relate to things that have an emotional impact, which is why we tend to remember good stories. Even in nonfiction, you can increase the impact of your narrative by affecting your reader on an emotional level so they will better remember and relate to what you’ve written.
Sounds good, but how do you do it? One way to make an impact on your readers is to invite them right into the room with you – bring them in close. One sure way to do that is by crafting scenes that rely on sensory language.
Sensory language and the nonfiction writer
Sensory language is just what it implies – it is the language of the five senses. When you employ sensory language, you use detail to describe what you smell, feel, taste, hear, and see. You don’t write, “I was upset when my boyfriend left me for another woman.” Instead, you write, “He brought me in close and I saw him manage a smile as he whispered, ‘This is it, I have to leave you.’ My throat constricted – I fought to breathe. I blinked long and hard, trying not to cry. But one hot tear escaped, I felt it roll down my cheek and salt my upper lip.”
In this short passage, I’ve managed to include four of the five senses:
- He whispered: hearing;
- My throat constricted, one hot tear: touch/feeling;
- I saw him manage a smile: sight;
- Salt my upper lip: taste.
The only sense omitted is the sense of smell.
Sensory language enhances your writing and immerses your reader in the scene. It helps the reader to visualize, hear, and imagine the scenario, so they can experience it rather than just digest the information you’re trying to convey.
Take a look at the two passages below, and notice how sensory language makes a difference.
Barbara called, she wanted to talk. She said something terrible had happened. I asked her to meet me at the grill, the one on the ground floor of my office building. It was lunchtime, and I was hungry, so I suggested she come and we could get something to eat.
“Six policemen just barged into my home,” Barbara wailed. “It was pouring outside, but they didn’t even bother to wipe their feet. They tracked grass and mud all over my white carpets. It’s like they used my rug as a door mat.”
A piece of golden hair – darkened by the rain – fell in front of her eyes, and she slicked it back behind her ear without a thought. My watch beeped, but she yammered on, oblivious. Twelve o’clock. I hadn’t eaten breakfast. The scent of grilling onions made my stomach lurch.
“Jeez,” I said. “That’s terrible. Do you want something to eat? Maybe that’ll make you feel better. I could use a bite, myself”
She hiccupped massive sobs as her head slammed onto the table. “What am I, twelve?” she sputtered. “A snack isn’t going to make this all better!”
Sensory language is easy to incorporate into your fiction or nonfiction narrative. Describe what your senses are telling you – what you hear, smell, see, feel, and taste – and watch your writing come alive!
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