The Five Senses
Everyone knows the five common senses: sight, smell, taste, touch, and sound. You want the reader to see, smell, taste, feel, and hear what your character does.
There are also "senses" that are not physical or neurologically based, but more like perceptions. The two I like to use are time and space. When trying to convey one of these senses, you have to incorporate one (or more) of the main five. Usually, it will be sight. The position of the sun in the sky can give your reader a sense of time. But sound is helpful in showing a sense of space, such an echo in a large room.
There are so many words available to get the world you are writing about across to the reader. To figure out which ones paint the clearest picture of your scene, ask yourself some questions about the experience you are trying to give your reader.
Is it good or bad? Lots of words have connotations that help convey a feeling with your description. Be sure to use adjectives that mesh with the overall idea you are going for. If you are trying to show the reader an upper class woman in a good way, for example, you might use words like slender, elegant, and exquisite. You wouldn't want to use words like skinny, snobby, or hoity-toity, since these words give a negative feeling.
Is it strong or weak? With a weak scent, you might say, "A slight trace of roses lingered in the air." For a strong odor, you might say, "The repugnant stink invaded my nostrils, instantaneously invoking my gag reflex."
What does it remind you of? What is something common that you can compare it to? If you are working in science fiction or fantasy, the thing you are describing may be unlike anything your reader has ever experienced. In this case, try comparing it to something common that your reader will be familiar with, then tell how it's different. Speaking of different...
How is it different than other things like it? When describing something common, like a chair, don't tell us what we already know. Don't say: it has four legs, a back to lean on and a seat for your rump. Everybody already knows what a "chair" looks like. Tell us what's different or unique about this particular chair. Maybe the back was carved from a dark, shiny wood to resemble vines climbing a trellis, or the seat is upholstered in the softest grey fabric you've ever had the privilege of running your fingertips across.
Personally, I like to use alliteration in my descriptions. I feel a repetition of consonant sounds makes the words flow off the tongue and leaves the reader with a lasting impression. This is especially true when describing sounds: A cacophony of crashes called me into the kitchen. Okay, that might be pushing the limits a little, but you get the idea. ;)
My Example: The Beach
Here are some examples from the beach. I give one sentence for each of the seven "senses" I listed previously. See if you can tell which sense I had in mind when I wrote each sentence.
The robin's egg blue sky stretched forever, meeting the navy blue ocean at the edge of infinity.
The gritty sand rubbed the skin between my toes raw.
The waves crescendoed, culminating in crashes interspersed with the calls of the seagulls.
Exquisite, lime-tinged Corona slid down my throat, leaving a bittersweet residue on my tongue.
The air swirled around me, bringing with it a heavenly mixture of salt and coconut tanning oil.
The toddler's neon pink bikini was in clear contrast to her pale, ivory skin and butter-colored curls.
The pink dawn and orange twilight were the perfect bookends to a beautiful day.
Also: ROW80 Update #4 April 15th
You can see my goals here.Writing: 233 on my "Tanka" post Friday, and wrote on this a little more before posting.
Reading: One down, three to go!
Editing: Still only at 6 pages overall. Gotta work on this! Seriously.
Blogging: This post, with update!! Plus my "Tanka" post on Friday. ;-)