Touch your readers with sensory words

By Jerry Bellune, Writing Coach

You may remember onomatopoeic words from the 10th grade.

These words express sounds such as to squeal or whoosh.

There’s a different, more subtle category of words, says writing coach Henneke Duistermaat. 

  • Visual words for sight allow you to paint vibrant (or gloomy) pictures.

What are you seeing? What’s the size? What’s the light like? What are the colors?

Examples of visual words: Gigantic, teeny, bulky, glittery, sparkling, shimmering, shiny, glowing, hazy, shadowy, gloomy, drab, murky, dull.

  • Tactile or touching words let your readers sense the silky-smoothness of your words.

How does something feel when you touch it? What’s the texture? The temperature? 

Examples of tactile words: Fluffy, gritty, rough, smooth, slimy, sticky, creepy, crisp, hairy, woolly.

  • Auditory words describe silence, sound or music.

How does a voice, an orchestra or a rock band sound? Is it loud or soft?

Examples of auditory words: Buzzing, crunchy, hubbub, humming, faint, deafening, squeaky, earsplitting, serene, sizzling, hissing, shrieking, roaring, thundering.

  • Words related to smell and taste allow readers to almost taste the food you’re cooking or eating.

Sensory words for taste and smell help you turn bland words into lip-smackingly tasty writing.

What kind of aroma is there? Is it natural or artificial? Strong or subtle? Pleasant or repulsive?

Examples of words related to taste and smell: Bland, rotten, fragrant, juicy, stinky, gooey, bitter, yummy, pungent, zesty, sweet, spicy, sour, savory, salty, bitter.

  • Sensory motion words allow readers to sense the motion of for example skipping or dancing.

When you use strong verbs to describe motion, readers experience the motion as if they’re there, too.

Is the car swerving? Is the flight turbulent? Is the sea choppy?

Examples of motion words: Soaring, resonating, staggering, eye-popping, shocking, jaw-dropping, turbulent, choppy, swirling, wriggling.

Exercise: Try writing three sentences as if telling a story using words from sensory groups.

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