Create Vivid Sensory Details to Bring Your Fiction to Life

When I taught children's writing for the Institute of Children’s Literature, one of the most challenging assignments for my students was when they were asked to describe something using a variety of sensory details.

You might find this kind of thing challenging, too.

But don’t worry.

You’ll get better at it.

It just takes practice.

And the more you practice thinking of people, places, and things in terms of sensory details, the better you'll get at creating the details that really make your reader feel as if he/she is living your story with the characters rather than just reading about what they are going through.

With that in mind, here are a few exercises to help you practice creating vivid sensory details:

1. Write a description of a place from your town or neighborhood that you know well.

It could be the grocery store, the library, a local park or museum, or even your own home.

Include an appeal to each of the 5 senses in your description: touch, taste, smell, sight, and sound.

2. Use a variety of sensory details to describe a place on a snowy day. Avoid clichés. And, again, appeal to each of the 5 senses.

3. Describe how the beach smells, looks, sounds, tastes, and sounds. Again, avoid clichés. Use fresh sensory images and details.

4. Weave a variety of sensory details into some dialogue between two or more characters.

Include details about where they are, what they are wearing, how they look.

You might even create a scene where they are talking as they are eating or listening to a concert.

5. Describe an activity – skiing, cooking, hiking, fishing, sewing, etc. with sensory details that show (instead of merely tell) about this activity. Include an appeal to as many of the 5 senses as you can.

6. Make a list of sensory details that are similes (avoid clichés).

7. Make a list of sensory details that are metaphors (avoid clichés).

8. Use a variety of sensory details to describe a camel to someone (perhaps a child) who has never seen or heard of a camel.

9. Create a new world using a variety of sensory details that make this new world seem real to your reader.

10. Describe something using only sensory details and ask someone you know to see if they can tell you what it is that you’ve described.

It takes a little thought to come up with just the right sensory details that bring a scene to life. But you can do it.

Try it!

Suzanne Lieurance lives and writes by the sea on Florida's beautiful Treasure Coast. She also coaches writers.

For more tips and resources for writers visit and get your free subscription to The Morning Nudge to receive a short email for writers every weekday morning.

1 comment:

Terry Whalin said...


Great insights and words of wisdom here. Thank you I had no idea that you were an instructor for the Institute of Children's Literature. I too did a stint teaching with them (two and a half years). I learned a lot and hopefully helped a lot of students.

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