I always get this compelling urge at the change of seasons to grab a pencil and pad and head outdoors to record the details of the passing season before forgotten and to capture the transformation occurring. No other equinox creates a stronger desire in me than summer to autumn.

Maybe it’s because my creative writing professor, whose class I took in the fall semester, gave my class an assignment doing just that. She instilled in me the importance of using sensory perception in my writing—all five senses.

In the task, after we wrote down all the visual details that popped at us, we were instructed to take notes blindly. Yes, with our eyes closed. It is amazing how our other senses become much more acute when one or two are shut down. Sounds that escape you everyday become apparent. Words to describe the things you touch will go beyond soft, hard, cold or hot. You’ll find the sunshine and the breeze has a taste. Odors are the most powerful in bringing lost memories to the forefront of your mind. You can use them to divulge a bit of character’s back story.

After we wrote all we could using the other four senses, we had to open our eyes and rewrite the visual using different terms. The world really does look different the second time around.

I’ve heard a great novelist uses all five senses on every page. I’ve yet to find any of my favorite authors doing so, but I do see they do at every opportunity. They make the world they’re building and the characters they’re drawing so real by using subtle meticulous details.

So, today, on the first full-day of autumn, join me. Grab your pad and pencil and head outside. Capture the world around you and then review the pages you’re working on and see where you’ve missed the opportunity to flesh out your world and characters. Come back and tell me something new you experienced.

12 comments

  1. Judy // September 23, 2010 at 10:27 AM  

    What a wonderful post, Autumn! I need every reminder I can get to use all five senses in my writing. And you're right. The sense of smell is the most powerful. I have listened to a professor cry over how a certain smell can transport you back in time to a sense of place and a certain emotion. Spring is my favorite time of year but Fall is nice too. Yes, we do have Fall in Florida, when the temperature and light change to give a different feel. Great blog!

  2. Mona Risk // September 23, 2010 at 12:29 PM  

    Our Fall is starting in Fort Lauderdale. It's called Hurricane Season. Strong wind, lot of rain, rough sea, and a drop of temperature that makes the air easier to breathe than in summer. Fall is not my favorite season in Florida. I miss the change of colors that makes Fall so special in the North. Same for smell. Nothing special here.

  3. susan // September 23, 2010 at 1:36 PM  

    I love walking in the woods and smelling the trees as they change colors..a crispness in the air adds to this scent as well. I do not like the smell of burning leaves but I relate it to autumn as so many people does this. We mulch ours and use them in a different way. I like to gather a few small branches of colored leaves and bring them inside as a floral arrangement even tho I know they don't last long. susan L.

  4. Mary Ricksen // September 23, 2010 at 3:11 PM  

    Great Post Autumn. You have hit on my favorite thing about reading, imagery. It puts me there, directly in the story. And to me is the most important part of the book. If I don't see it, smell, or hear it, well you get the picture.
    You go girl!!!

  5. Keena Kincaid // September 23, 2010 at 3:53 PM  

    Judy,
    One of the things I miss about living in upstate New York (close to the Vermont border) is the fall. The air smells like apples tinged with pine, the sky is a blue that takes your breath and I can't even describe the leaves. I'd spend long weekend afternoons just driving along Route 7 in Vermont admiring the leaves. When I was done, I'd pop in and say hello to Robert Frost and then head back home.

  6. Mary Marvella // September 23, 2010 at 5:44 PM  

    Autumn, I find that contest entrants work is sometimes okay but bland because I don't smell, taste, hear, or feel what's happening.

    Fear can make one feel one's own heart beat and smell one's own sweat. Fear can taste sour or bitter.

    A desk can smell of wood and lemon oil and feel smooth or rough as I run my fingertips over the shiny surface or dull surface.

  7. Autumn Jordon // September 23, 2010 at 6:59 PM  

    I'm so sorry. I called to church to help in kitchen.

    Judy, thanks! I started an editing list for myself and the use of senses is on it.

    I haven't visited Flordia in the fall, Mona. I do have family there and I know they miss the AUtumn here in the Northeast.

    Hi, Susan. Welcome to the Pink Fuzzy Slippers. I'm glad you stopped by. I do more hiking in the fall then any other season. I love walking through the forest. I also love raking leaves. My DH tells me I'm nuts. I still love him.

  8. Autumn Jordon // September 23, 2010 at 7:05 PM  

    Thanks, Mary and I'm with you totally.

    Ah, Keena. I love your idea to bring the colored leaves inside. I'll have to do that. Thanks so much for stopping by today.

    Great sensory use examples, Mary. And I so agree with you. I judge contests now and then and I'm always suggesting to the authors that they add sensory details.

  9. Beth Trissel // September 23, 2010 at 9:32 PM  

    Lovely post, Autumn. Normally I would agree with you but our green valley is a dried up scorched desert, very depressing, and the heat today was record breaking.

  10. Beth Trissel // September 23, 2010 at 9:33 PM  

    Lovely post, Autumn. Normally I would agree with you but our green valley is a dried up scorched desert, very depressing, and the heat today was record breaking.

  11. Pamela Varnado // September 23, 2010 at 11:57 PM  

    Loved the post. I sometimes get caught up in all mechanics of writing that I forget to include the five senses. My hardest sense to add is the sense of taste. If the characters aren't eating, I struggle to find ways to include taste. Any suggestions?

  12. Joanne // September 24, 2010 at 1:10 PM  

    Autumn,
    Thanks for the reminder to keep the 5 senses in my writing. It's still very much summer in SC.