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Writing Sensory Description, Part 2

So in my last blog post, I discussed how, often, writers neglect sensory descriptive language in their work. Keeping in mind that we have five senses--sight, smell, taste, hearing, and touch--many writers fail to incorporate all or even most of these in their writing. If you remember, I wrote this for you:

Steven entered the downtown bistro where he was to meet Elizabeth. He nudged his way to the front of the group of patrons waiting to be seated and scanned the room for her.

“Can I help you, sir?” the hostess says. At that moment, Steven spots Elizabeth.

“I’m meeting someone and I see her now,” Steven says and walks toward the table, smiling at Elizabeth as he approaches.

“I hope you haven’t been waiting long,” he begins.

Elizabeth smiles warmly. “No, I’ve only been here about five minutes. It’s great to see you.”

I intentionally scripted this scene with no sensory description. I included nothing that gives the reader a genuine sense of entering a downtown eatery. Since Steven has to work his way to the front of the patrons waiting to be seated, you can infer that this is a busy place. What senses could come into play in a busy restaurant scene? What about smells? Can he pick out specific dishes or ingredients? What might he see when he scans the room? Employees? Patrons? Doing what? Is it noisy? What does he hear?

I have played with this scene to punch it up. I cheated a little by adding a short introductory description of Steven's approach to the bistro. Here's what I came up with:

Steven hunched his shoulders against the chilly wind as he approached Trish’s Treatery, a popular downtown bistro where he was to meet Elizabeth. Upon entering, he steeled himself against nasty looks and began to wiggle his way to the front of the dense flock of business men and women waiting to be seated. He emerged as though a butterfly from a cocoon, to view the bustling sight before him.

A no-nonsense hostess approached him, scowling. "Can I help you, sir?" Plates and glasses clinked, patrons talked and laughed, servers announced today's specials, and somewhere beneath it all, Michael Buble' sang "Haven't Met You Yet."

Steven leaned toward her and raised his voice to be heard above the din. "I'm meeting someone who's already been seated." Satisfied with this explanation, she nodded and returned to her reservation desk.

Servers in their pale burgundy uniforms hustled from kitchen to table and back again at an athletic pace. The air teemed with tantalizing smells Steven knew well; he could identify Trish’s signature risotto with andouille sausage, the portobello mushrooms with crab stuffing, and the grilled grouper with roasted garlic aioli. His mouth watered as a margherita pizza raced past carried by a 5-foot-tall server named Jenna who beamed with what Steven could only interpret as pride.

Scanning the convivial scene, he recognized Elizabeth’s silk charmeuse scarf before he even saw her face. Purchased in Paris when she was on a business trip with her law firm, Elizabeth wore the vibrant, spring-blossom-themed accessory year-round. Steven picked his way through the room, past the tables and diners, sidestepping as an elegant woman pushed back her chair to retrieve her clutch from the burgundy carpet beneath her seat.

As he approached her table, Elizabeth raised her eyes to him and smiled, flooding him with a warmth he had not felt since they’d separated three months earlier. The mere sight of those green eyes caused his hands to tremble.

OK. Love it? Hate It? Too much? Yes, maybe. At least I hope you agree it offers more to grab onto than the first version. I bombarded the senses--chilly wind, the crush of the patrons, the obstacle course of the dining room, voices, music, clothing colors and texture, and the mouth-watering entrees.

Enliven your writing by stimulating the readers' senses. Make them feel as though they are in each scene with the characters, seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching what they are seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching. A short story or novel should play like a movie of the mind, don't you agree?

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That made a huge difference. So much so that I am now hungry and want some risotto.

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