Sensory vs. Telling Descriptions

Published by Madeleine on

When it comes to storytelling every writer falls into the habit of simply telling their reader what is happening by using bland and boring writing. But sensory descriptions are the magical remedy to this writing woe.

Telling Descriptions 

“The room was creepy.”

“He felt scared.”

These telling descriptions have a place in writing, particularly in fast-paced chapters or less important scenes. They don’t draw the readers focus. But sometimes you want to compel their attention and emotionally draw them into a scene. Sensory descriptions create a vivid image in the reader’s mind that places them, full-bodied, into your story. Descriptions like these are powerful when crafted well and can be a fantastic tool for writers.

What are Sensory Descriptions?

Sensory descriptions are more detailed portrayals than telling descriptions. They engage the reader’s five senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. As such, the reader feels a sense of familiarity with the descriptions they’re reading. This means they can image the story more powerfully by likening it to their own memories and experiences. 

Sensory descriptions develop from the old adage “show don’t tell” and takes it a step further. But it’s important to note that you don’t need to engage every sense in every description to get the effect.

Telling Description: “The hall was dark and cold. He felt scared.”

Show-don’t-tell Description: “As he moved through the dark hall he kept his eyes alert and his heartbeat grew faster.”

Sensory Description: “His lonely footsteps echoed around the hall as he descended. The hair on his arms prickled. He told himself it was because of the cooling air, but as he moved further into the dark he noticed the metallic smell. His heart beat faster.”

All three types of descriptions are useful in storytelling, but deciding when to use them and how often is very important. Too many telling descriptions can make for a boring read. While too many sensory descriptions can make reading a laborious process that is just too hard. Finding a balance between them makes an interesting story that engages the reader with varying paces and emotionally resonating scenes. These types of books we often call “un-put-downable”. Which is the goal, right? 

Sensory Words

The five weeks following this post we provided 5 sensory tables for our readers at The Writing Resource and sent them out early to our subscribers. You can check them out here: sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. Feel free to subscribe below and we’ll send you all the best free content weekly. 

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