Writing about the Sense of Sight

Brown. My novel had turned to brown. At least, that’s what my freelance editor Sharyn Kopf told me when she read my novel. I had used “brown” far too may times. Most writers write by sight. And most readers think by sight, so writing about the sense of sight is the easiest way to connect with readers. It’s also the hardest to write about from a fresh perspective. While tackling all the browns that had invaded the story, I developed three ways to work color into my story.

Write About Color as Your Main Character Sees It

It was a no brainer for me to focus on color when writing about the sense of sight in my YA mystery A Shadow on the Snow. My main character, Rae Riley, is an amateur photographer. She should notice color, more than most people. But she wouldn’t describe everything that was brown with just that word. So I had to dig into my descriptions and decide …

Could I Use a Different Color?

In Chapter 8, I had used the word “brown” so many times that the scene was practically wallowing in a mud pit. So I examined all the brown things and decided if they really had to be brown. For example, Rae has come to her uncle’s farm for a riding lesson. The horse she’s going to ride is Pokey. Pokey started as a brown horse because it was based on the first horse I’d ever rode during a lesson. I changed Pokey to a palomino to get rid of a brown that wasn’t necessary. And I love a palominos. In another chapter, I changed a walk-on character’s eyes to hazel because there was no good reason to keep them brown.

Or I deleted any color name, such as when I described a third-grade girl who is having a riding lesson before Rae. The little girl’s father is watching her. I describe him “with his warm, brown eyes and brown hair”. Later, when I describe the girl, I wrote “Alli took off her helmet, only a few wisps of hair, the same shade as her father’s, escaping her French braid.” Readers know she has brown hair without me using the word.

If I couldn’t change the color, I looked …

For Synonyms

In a couple places, I wrote that characters had dark hair instead of brown. The horse Alli was riding was sorrel instead of brown. Rae could know this because her late mother worked at a stable when Rae was in middle school. So I eliminated a “brown” and made the new color work with my main character’s eye for photography and her backstory. Rae describes the hair of one of her cousins as “sepia-colored.”

Click here for my review of a short story that puts color to brilliant use. Here are more of my tips on writing about the senses.

How do you use the sense of sight in your writing? What tips do you have for writing about the sense of sight?

Use All Five Senses to Describe Your … Yard

We’re moving outside for this week’s prompt, the last one for the month dealing with writing from the senses. My challenge today is for you to use all five senses to describe your yard. I stood outside on our four acres and wrote down my impressions.

  • Taste: Nothing
  • Smell: Nothing much. Maybe a little damp.
  • Touch: Cold wind blowing my hair, brushing my cheeks.
  • Sound: All kinds of birds singing (wish I knew bird calls better). Sound of traffic on state route.
  • Sight: Green and brown grass, gray sky, bare trees, white-limbed sycamore, colorful hives, bright yellow, shed, muted-colored barn.

Here’s how those impressions inspire me:

I wiggled my toes as the moisture in the wet grass sneaked into my leaky boots, pulling my collar up around my cheeks as the wind did its best to slice them. Did I really like Dave enough to go birding when the wind chill indicated the morning should best be spent wrapped in an afghan and around a cup of tea? The birds were out in force, all kinds of trilling, chirping, and singing ricocheting from tree to tree. I had no idea what made which sound, but they all sounded deliriously happy in the biting wind and damp air.

The gray sky had turned from pearl to charcoal as the morning had grown old. I wiggled my toes again and hugged my old rain coat closer to me.

Dave darted out of the woods on the other side of the weedy clearing and motioned to me. I squished my way to him, my toes growing numb.

“You’ve got to see this,” he whispered to me. “I never expected–“

A shot made us jump.

Dave glanced back in the woods. “This is a state park. Nobody can hunt in here.”

“Maybe it wasn’t a gun. Maybe something snapped off, like a limb of a tree.”

Several more cracks, one right after the other, reached us.

Dave’s eyes widened as big as my own.

For more prompts for the senses, click here.

How you use all five senses to describe your yard and inspire and a story?

Writing about the Sense of Sound

Sound is most likely the second the most used sense in writing, and there’s so many ways to tackle writing about the sense of sound. For example, I’ve always been interested in how characters sound when they talk. And I love how sound adds another layer of complexity to a setting.

How Do You Say That?

My interest in how a character sounds may come from years of being a movie fan. Describing a character’s usual voice gives a story a cinematic touch and is a way to help readers differentiate between characters without relying as heavily on visual cues. Below are the ways I described characters’ voices in my YA mystery A Shadow on the Snow.

  • My main character Rae has a slight Southern accent, which is noticeable now that she lives in Ohio.
  • Her friend Houston, who’s originally from Texas, speaks with that accent in a drawl.
  • Her boss Barb speaks in a “crisp clip” when talking to someone she doesn’t like.
  • Rae’s dad’s voice is a “penetrating” or “booming baritone”.
  • Rae’s great-grandfather has “a voice as deep and rocky as an abandoned mine shaft.”

Set the Scene with Sound

My goal in describing settings is to let the reader feel like he or she is living a scene with the main character. Sounds aids me enormously in creating that illusion.

Rae sets a trap for whoever has been leaving her threatening notes, waiting in her apartment one night when she has made it look like she’s not at home. Since it’s February, the apartment gets dark quickly, giving me an opportunity to appeal to the sense of sound.

  • “As the courthouse chimed 7:00”
  • Rae’s apartment is a finished room over a garage. Her landlady’s “car chugged into the garage beneath me.”
  • “A meow drifted up to me.”

The winter setting allowed me to add descriptions like:

  • “I crunched down the drive”
  • During a thaw, “the ground squished beneath my boot with every step”
  • “Cars and trucks ground by on the salt-covered streets.”

How do you use the sense of sound in your writing? What tips do you have for writing about the sense of sound?

Use All Five Senses to Describe Your…Kitchen

I decided to give you a break with this week’s prompt. It should be easy to use all five senses to describe your kitchen. Here’s what I sensed in my kitchen.

Sight: Honey-stained cabinets, maroon counters, white appliances, cream-colored walls

Sound: Refrigerator humming, dryer in laundry room running, bird chirps outside window

Touch: Smooth counters, sleek appliances, wet dishes drying

Smell: Empty grape juice bottle, nothing cooking, so no aromas from that

Taste: Besides the staples, I can sample dried cherries, Good and Plenties, crackers, milk, orange juice

So now I’ll put these sensations into a story.

Weighed down with a backpack and overstuffed duffel bag, I trudged to the back door of Grandma’s house and opened it. The aroma of cooking onions and bacon flew to me, and I drew it in deep.

Grandma stirred a big pot on the white stove, as if she hadn’t moved since I’d left a year ago. The cabinets were still the same honey color, the smooth counters the same maroon, the dryer was thumping away in the basement, a smaller pot bubbled on a burner.

Grandmas looked up and jumped, then hurried to me. “I need to recharge the battery in my hearing aid.” She held me a hug so tight that I could barely get my arms around her to return it.

“I thought you were coming home tomorrow,” she said, moving back to the stove.

“I found an earlier flight.” I took a spoon from a drawer and dipped it into the small pot. I blew on it and then slurped the sauce. The heat and tang of the tomato sauce tasted like home.

Click here for more prompts using the senses.

What do you sense using all five senses to describe your kitchen?

Writing about the Sense of Touch

Touch is another sense that writers tend to overlook. In the story “The Price of Light”, author Ellis Peters brings medieval England to life through the senses and especially through texture. Once I sat down to analyze touch, I realized it encompasses many different kinds of sensation and writing about the sense of touch adds evocative variety to a story.


Not only clothes, but everything we touch has some kind of texture, if we think about it. The table I’m eating on, the chair I’m sitting on, the jacket of the woman I brush up against in a crowded mall, the goop my kid just invented in the basement. If the point of view (POV) character is touching something, I can switch from sight to touch to give my description variety.

I’m sensitive to food textures. Regardless of how a food tastes, if the texture triggers my gag reflex, I’m done with it. In fact, I will soldier through food that doesn’t taste good, but I can’t choke it down if the texture is bad. Marshmallows and meringue are two foods with textures I literally can’t swallow.


The temperature and moisture of the air around us is sensed through our skin. So instead of limiting myself to how a snowy scene looks, I will add how the cold makes my POV character feel. Humidity can be described the same way. Instead of writing how the sweat glistens on someone’s face, I will write about how humidity wraps around my skin like a wet quilt. When describing wind, I can switch to how it feels, rather than the effects the character sees or hears.


Pressure on the skin signals all kinds of emotions. If you want large man to intimidate your small main character, he can press against her, crowding her, trapping her. A squeeze of the hand can mean reassurance, a slap on the back affection or anger, a handshake, depending upon the strength, friendship or fury.

For more tips on writing about the senses, click here.

I know I haven’t exhausted the possibilities. What tips do you have about writing about the sense of touch?

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