Sense and Sensibility


Sense and SensibilitySORRY TO MISLEAD YOU, but this isn’t a treatise on Jane Austen’s classic novel pitting one sister’s passion against the other sister’s sound reasoning, although that might make for an interesting post some day (Kait, you interested?). Full disclosure: way back when during high school, my English class was assigned Sense and Sensibility to read, followed by a book report. When school ended for the day I high-tailed it downtown to Cooper’s News Stand and the spiral rack which held Cliffs Notes for many of the classics. Fortunately, there were two copies available. I think I paid about three or four bucks for it, but it was worth every cent to spare the fifteen-year-old me from over three-hundred pages of drudgery (my opinion at the time). But I digress.

Deadly Catch newer coverA few days ago I was reading through a blog listing URLs on numerous topics helpful to writers. One that caught my eye was about using the five senses to enhance our fiction: sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste. I’ll admit to thinking, How mundane. Any writer worth his salt knows that, even most beginners. And then it struck me—what a pompous ass I was to think that! Mr. Know-it-all-Author, how often do you use the five senses to enhance your own fiction? And so I decided to put it to the test, using my first Mac McClellan Mystery, Deadly Catch, as the guinea pig.


I grabbed a copy of the book and opened it to Chapter One. With bated breath (oh, the drama, the tension!), I put myself to the test and began reading:


A quick flick of the wrist and the lure flashed in the rising sun, arched thirty or so yards alongside the grass flats and landed with a quiet splash barely a foot from the edge.

Making-notesMuch to my delight (and surprise) I was able to scratch off the first two of the five senses in just the second sentence of the novel. Not bad, if I do say so myself.

“flashed” = Sight.

“splash” = Hearing.

Whoopee! So far, so good. I wondered if my luck would hold. I ventured on. At the bottom of the first page and on to the second page of Chapter One, I read,

The lure wiggled and skirted the grassy edge for ten or fifteen feet when I felt resistance.


“Felt”—Hurrah for me! I now could scratch off sense number three: Touch. I’d only reached the top of the second page of my mystery and I already had used senses one, two, and three.

About halfway to the target a light breeze rose and drifted my way. That’s when the stench hit, almost gagging me.

Stench-of-DecayHot damn! “stench” certainly qualified for “Smell.” Four out of five senses used in the first two pages of Deadly Catch, and in order as listed on the blog I’d read, no less. Was it karma, or merely coincidence?

I could hardly contain myself as I ventured to the following page in search of the next—fifth— sense. Could I possibly go five for five, a perfect batting average of 1.000, or would my streak end at a very respectable .800? I took a deep breath and plunged ahead.

A couple pages into Chapter Two I found this:


I fished a roll of breath mints from my pocket and popped a couple in my mouth.

Hmm, does that qualify? Maybe, maybe not. The sentence doesn’t directly state anything about taste, but the implication is there. Mac had polished off a six-pack of beer while waiting for the Florida Marine Patrol to show up after he’d discovered the decomposed body he’d hooked beside the grass flat. It’s not a direct reference, but I think it qualifies. But not to worry: batting .800 ain’t bad at all—just ask any baseball fan.

Confidence word destructionSo, what’s the moral of this post? Well, I believe good writing will always include the five senses placed here and there throughout the story to enhance the reader’s enjoyment. Not on every page, or every other page. It just happened to occur in Deadly Catch. I had no idea of that when I reopened the book for the first time in many months. To say I was pleasantly surprised would be an understatement. I don’t recall consciously planting the five senses in the opening pages of the book. It just happened. And that fact boosts my confidence in my writing.

Lesson learned? Using the five senses in fiction makes Sense and Sensibility (apologies to Ms. Austen).


What about you? If you’re a writer, does your work include these five senses to help enrich your readers’ enjoyment? And as readers, do our favorite books and authors employ the senses to widen our experience as we travel through the pages? Grab a book from the author of your choice and see how far into the story you get until you find all five. It’s fun, and a good way to test your reading chops!

15 thoughts on “Sense and Sensibility

  1. I couldn’t agree with you more, Michael, about making sure all of the senses are used in a story. After all, in real life, we experience things with all of them.

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  2. Using the five senses throughout your writing is so important, I was just teaching my students about this! It’s great to learn these “rules” and “tips” early on so that later when you are writing, you unconsciously input them into your writing.

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  3. That’s the key, getting the “writing mind” finely tuned so the senses are worked into the storyline on autopilot. “Mind-muscle memory,” similar to muscle-memory while play guitar: the fingers automatically know where to go when switching from one chord shapt to another. Thanks! 🙂


  4. Excellent post, Mike! When I had a sticks-and-bricks house and a writing office with walls (!) I had an 8×11 piece of paper taped to the wall in front of the desk. On the paper I’d written (as practice for learning calligraphy): “Can you see it? Can you hear it? Can you touch it? Can you taste it? Can you smell it? Then it must be real!” Served as a great reminder every time I sat down to write. And now that you bring that memory back… time to look over the pages I drafted yesterday…. you know, just to check! Thanks for this great reminder!

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  5. Thanks Ellen. I’m glad it stirred the old memory. Yep, using the senses does help fiction feel more real. I’ve saved the last couple of posts you sent; keep meaning to answer them, but life seems to keep getting in the way. That, or my lazy procrastinating self! I was looking at my Kindle the other day and saw YUMA BABY. Then I went to Amazon and realized I hadn’t posted a review of it. I thought I’d done that MONTHS ago! My bad. I’ll sure try to get it done soon, and my apologies for not having done so. Hope you and Bob are doing well and having a good time. What’s up next for Betty and Walt? Looking forward to more from them. Take care, and as always,


  6. Thanks so much, Mike! Bob and I are doing well — enjoying the sunny Sonoran Desert around Yuma where it’s been warmer than normal (in the upper 70s for highs) but will be cooling down all the way into the mid 60s this week. Working on Walt and Betty’s next adventure — the hardest part is always trying to decide where they’ll be next! How about Mac? Will we be hearing from Mac pretty soon? Take care!

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  7. Yuma, huh? Watch out for those stray babies! 🙂
    I’m tackling the next Mac mystery again after letting it go dormant for almost a year (“life” got in the way, as it is wont to do). Probably won’t be out until early 2019. Also working on the Dinger, P.I. short story collection, and pushing to get my Civil War novel republished.
    Did you guys ever go to Big Bend N.P. in Texas? Been there several times. Three distinct environments there: desert, river canyons, and mountains. Great place, however, I wouldn’t go again. Lots of problems in the past two decades of illegals crossing, and major drugs. Some of my favorite places have been closed to visitors. How about the Grand Canyon? Lots of potential for a mystery there, South or North Rim (or both)!
    Take care, and HAPPY TRAILS!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Always an adventure in Yuma, Mike! Still haven’t gotten to Big Bend yet…. but have heard it’s a tricky place to visit for the reasons you mention. Same with the North Rim of the Grand Canyon — also on our “someday” list 🙂 We’ve been to the South Rim several times, but — like most national parks — has become too crowded to enjoy (and for a good RV spot, you need reservations, sometimes months or years in advance). Mystery possibilities are everywhere — like ghosts, they haunt me when I visit!! Looking forward to your Dinger PI stories!!


  8. Pingback: Best Fiction and Writing Blogs | M.C. Tuggle, Writer

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