Use all the senses

Use all the senses

I’m no expert. I’m sharing what I learned about the craft of writing while I was writing HW. I offer it in hopes you’ll find it useful in your writing journey.

My copy editor, Becky, had an eye-opening suggestion. Use ALL the senses in describing a scene. What? Duh! I’d never thought much about that.

From her notes:


  • Hattie bakes cookies. Can you add a detail about the sweet, cinnamon flavor?
  • She visits Marion’s lake cottage. Does the air smell like damp rocks and musty, earthy water plants? 
  • You mention the flowers filling Miss Clark’s yard. Is honeysuckle sweet? Fresh and fruity? Musky? 
  • At Maestro’s school there must be an overpowering scent of pencil shavings and the almond-like fragrance of paper. 
  • When Hattie is painting signs is there a dizzying scent to the lacquer?  A thick chemical fragrance? 
  • At Gettysburg—the sharp tang of grass. The dank scent of old stone. 


  • What do Polly’s hooves sound like as she clops to Madame Duvay’s?
  • Does the door of Madame Duvay’s shack/cart creak open? 
  • Does Hattie’s family make a lot of noise at the dinner table? 
  • Does the map of Battle of Gettysburg crackle? 
  • Does the horse’s tack jingle on her cart ride with Arthur?


  • Obviously, you can add in flavors of the gingersnaps, dinners, and the flavors of Momma’s cooking.
  • Regret can also have a flavor, as can sorrow, happiness, etc. Taste is a potent and memorable emotion, so look for places to add the salty tang of tears.

Here’s what I did

From Chapter #3 – Madame Will See You Now

The inside of the shack was dark except for a lamp burning in the far corner. The smell of perfume and tobacco made me gag slightly. Cold sweat suddenly covered me as I tried to keep my insides from heaving. When my eyes adjusted to the dark, I saw Madame Duvay sitting in the shadows at a small table.

Hunched over and wrinkled, her long gray hair was wild as an old straw broom. The blood-red scarf that wrapped her head made me think it was dyed with the blood of children. I wanted to run. Marion grabbed my hand and squeezed it tight.

From Chapter #13 – That’s A Pretty Teapot

Hattie shows up at her teacher’s house unannounced. They are sitting on the porch having tea.

Pouring tea carefully into our cups, she asked, “What did you need to talk with me about, Hattie?” She handed me a cup. “Here you go. I hope you like it. Jasmine tea is my favorite.”

As I was about to speak, she interrupted. “I’m so sorry, forgive me. I forgot to bring out the cookies I made yesterday. I’ll be right back.”

I was nervous. I took a small sip of my tea. The steaming fragrance went up my nose, filling my head with the strangest sensation. I remembered the word “exotic” from school. Jasmine tea served in these cups seemed to me the very definition of exotic.

And later…

The emotions building inside me suddenly came rushing out like chickens at feeding time. Sobbing, I rested my head on her lap. As she gently stroked my hair, the scent of ginger and cloves on her hands made me think of molasses cookies and Arthur. I knew at that instant what she meant by “heart.”


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