Avon Van Hassel

Building Worlds and Filling Them With Magic

Intro. Inject emotion and anchor in scene


Literally, what does your character see? This is by far the easiest sense to write. What does the space look like? How are the characters dressed? What are they doing?

But there’s so much more you can add here to really suck the reader in. What do your characters focus on? If you have multiple points of view, this can help establish details about their personalities. For instance, Sulat is terrible at reading faces. She sees the expressions, but she doesn’t always know what they mean. So she looks at hands and feet. A balled fist or tapping toe can tell her much more about a person’s feelings than a scowl or smile.

Alois, on the other hand, is great with faces, to the exclusion of almost everything else. He has good emotional intelligence and is usually able to charm people, but if there’s something happening in the periphery, he has no idea. The two of them work well as a team, with Alois dealing directly with people and Sulat keeping track of their surroundings.

But you can use visual cues more subtly, too. Symbols, colours, and imagery can clue the audience into what’s going on, even if it escapes the characters’ conscious knowledge.


Sound usually comes to us through dialogue, though large and conspicuous noises are popular, too. But its not just what a character says or that someone is playing piano that will bring a scene to life. How the characters are speaking or playing- the tone and the quality of the sound alters how it is perceived. A sharp tone or jangled melody sits different with the reader than a purr or lilting tune.

Then, to add depth, you might consider background noise, such as chatter of other patrons, the clink of metal utensils on china dishes, or the rumble of traffic outside. Be care, though. Only add it in the natural spaces between action beats. Too much can be distracting.


They say smell is the sense most attached to memory, so this one, when used correctly, can be powerful. And it is one of the trickier senses to slip in casually. Unless your characters are in a pungent place or dealing with something with a strong odour, you’re almost always going to be using it for triggering memories.

Smell is also one of those tools that can really define a writer’s style. Are you the sort of storyteller who likes to get really down deep in the grime and grit of real life? Or do you prefer give your readers just enough to get the idea without weighing down the vibe?


Touch is another tricky one, but it can also be used effectively. I like to classify sensory details and internal sensations differently here. Sensory details for touch include things like the texture of fabric, the coolness of the breeze, or pain in a broken leg. Internal sensations are like the fluttering of the gut when one thinks of the object of their affection, the tingling of the spine in a tense situation, or the hollo coldness after a loss. These things can be felt physically, but in a way much more related to emotion than the environment

Again, how a character uses the touch sense can say a lot about them. When Sulat feels a panic attack coming, she pinches the fabric if her pants between her fingers or reaches for the tooling on her leather boots. She also is not the chattiest character, so she experiences a lot of her emotions nonverbally, whereas Alois expresses them out loud.


Taste for me, is the hardest to incorporate naturally, but it can be done. Taste is connected to smell, so it can also be used to trigger a memory. Perhaps your character still has the remnants of food in their mouths, it could remind them of something that happened at dinner. It can also act like an internal sensations like touch. A bitter or metallic tang can alert the character to a spike in adrenaline, or indicate that they are bleeding after a fight.

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