Practice-W Exercise Archives
Exercise: Involving the Senses
These exercises were
written by IWW members
and administrators to provide structured practice opportunities for its
You are welcome to use them for practice as well. Please mention that
them at the Internet Writers Workshop (http://www.internetwritingworkshop.org/).
Prepared by: Rhéal Nadeau
Posted on: Sun, 7 Jan 2001
Reposted on: Mon, 2 Jan 2006
One of the principles of good writing is "involve the senses". Most
us find it easy enough to describe sights and sounds (though often with
too little detail), but the other senses are often neglected: smell,
taste, touch. (One could add other senses: motion/balance, for
In 500 words or less, using senses other than sight or hearing,
a character coming into a familiar house, and sensing something is
As an extra-curricular activity: for a full day this week, pay
attention to the smells around you. Do the rooms in your house have
different smells? Does your home smell different from someone else's?
What are the smells on the street, in the stores, at work or school?
Rhéal Nadeau's wrap-up
Posted on: Sun, 14 Jan 2001
General reaction first: I'm amazed at the response and at the
creativity of the authors, and at the high level of participation (by
count, 21 Subs and 63 Crits.) And on the whole, the subs followed the
intent of the exercise.
I think anyone who has been reading the submissions will have a seen
lot of ways to evoke a setting or event or character (or all of those)
through sensory details.
I will suggest, however, that this exercise only scratches the
and that mastering the use of the senses requires paying attention over
a sustained period of times.
Some of the things I saw in the submissions that confirm this view,
- in many submissions, I saw mostly visual description with a few
sensory impressions thrown in
- we often saw words like "feel" or "sense", which are telling
The purpose of the exercise was to go a step beyond - what does it
feel like, exactly? What exactly did the character sense? (To use
one of the more pungent examples: what exactly does skunk stink
- an interesting problem that appeared a few times was repetitive
of one word ("house" or "shit".) I think those represent a chance
for the author to find richer, more diverse, language
(As a follow-up activity, the authors of those submissions could take a
fresh look at their texts, and see if and how the scene could have been
made richer, more alive.)
I am left wondering why we so easily use visual descriptions, and
it so hard to include the other senses (even though, for example, smell
is the most evocative of senses.) Part of it is that we do live in a
visual and spoken world, part that colours and shapes are more
more easily described. My claim, however, is that using only sight and
sound is like looking at a photo on the wall; adding smell and taste
touch is what puts us *in* the scene.
Finally, a couple of idle comments on how people approached the
exercises. It was, first of all, interesting to me how many people
tried to write a complete story. This is not necessarily a bad thing,
but I believe that in some cases it detracted from the exercise, since
the writing focus shifted from the senses to the story being told. (The
point of such exercises, or one of the points anyway, is to focus on
specific aspect of writing, as opposed to our standard writing where
we're focused on the final goal.)
As well, I was interested in seeing how some writers obviously put a
of work into their submissions, whereas others wrote theirs more
quickly, with little revision (and some of the more spontaneous texts
were among my personal favourites - perhaps those specific submissions
were the ones that started with a strong image in the writer's mind?)
To conclude, my congratulations to everyone who participated, and
luck on the upcoming exercises. It's been fun seeing so many people
take on my exercise and run with it! And I recommend that we all
to pay more attention to what our senses are telling us, and think of
how those sensations affect us, and how we could describe both the
stimulus and our response as effectively as possible.
Web site created by
Rhéal Nadeau and
the administrators of the Internet Writing Workshop.
Modified by Gayle Surrette.