Control the Sensory Details of Your Story

workbench covered with papers

Setting details can overwhelm your reader. Long narrative passages describing the place or the weather can slow down your story. But you can use those same details to heighten your story and engage readers with your character.

For instance, your detective may walk into the victim’s studio to learn what they can about the victim. A long narrative description of everything in the studio would tell the reader about the room. 

Instead of describing everything, you can narrow down the details. You may have a short list of items on the victim’s workbench. You use that list to hide one important clue among the other items listed. 

At the same time, your detective may run their hand along the uneven rough wood of the workbench edge, getting a splinter in their palm. The annoyance of the splinter may distract your detective from an uncashed check on the workbench hidden under other papers. That check was written by an important suspect. The splinter creates a missed opportunity for the detective.

Character Focus

When you tie your story details to a character you’ll add more emotional punch for your reader. 

Think of that splinter off the work table. Everyone knows how annoying and sometimes painful a splinter can be; how it distracts you from whatever you were doing at the time. Readers relate to that moment in the character’s life. 

Like the character, the reader’s mind goes from hunting for clues to the splinter experience. 

That one detail brings the studio and the work table alive in the story in a way a long description of everything in the studio doesn’t do.

The more you tie the details to a character, the more immediate it will feel to your reader. And, the more your reader will care about your story.

When your reader cares about your character, they care about the story. 

Build Tension with Details

Details help build tension, too. And the tension comes from the character’s experience with the detail.

Imagine your brave heroine sleuth is kidnapped, tied up, and shoved in the trunk of a car. It’s dark, she can’t see anything. She starts feeling around with her fingers with her hands tied behind her back. 

Your reader will wonder if she finds anything. And, then, if she does will it be something she can use to cut her ties or as a weapon when her captor opens the trunk?

Whatever object or objects you put in the back of the car within reach of her fingers will heighten the tension of the story. Will she free herself? Will she overcome her captor? 

The immediacy of the object helps your reader mentally try to help your character out of a bad situation. 

Use the Five Senses to Create Your Details

In the immediacy of writing your draft, you may miss details. In the editing stage check each scene for sensory details that will connect your reader to the story. 

Aim for sensory elements in each scene. 

  1. Sight
  2. Sound
  3. Taste
  4. Touch
  5. Smell

Aim for at least three sensory elements in each scene. Be sure to vary the senses in sequential scenes. If you have sight, sound, and taste in one, create a different mix, like smell, touch, and sight in the next.

Your readers will appreciate the time you take to add those details. Details help your reader “feel” the story. 

Photo by Matt Briney on Unsplash

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