How to Add Sense Detail to Fiction

Two Methods:Approaches to Sense DetailApplying Sense Detail to Fiction

Concrete sensory detail, or sense detail, for short, is detail about something that can be recognized through the five senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell or taste. Sense detail connects the reader to the story by providing him or her with recognizable things, thus making the story environment seem real. Learning how to add sense detail to fiction, may increase the likelihood of a story being published.

Method 1
Approaches to Sense Detail

  1. Image titled Add Sense Detail to Fiction Step 1
    Show, don't tell. Use sense detail to describe the story's location and time, the emotional state of the characters and their relationships, instead of stating place, time and mood.
    • Location: Describing "ice floes hitting the shore" transports the reader to an arctic environment.
    • Time: Describing Christmas decorations helps set the story in December. Describing roughly dressed peasants holding torches of pitch-soaked rags and shouting curses in French helps set the story during the French Revolution.
    • Character's emotional state: Saying "John's eyes bulged and his face turned red" vividly describes John's physical appearance, while implying his anger.
    • Relationship between characters: Saying one character squeezes another's hand implies that one is reassuring the other.
  2. Image titled Add Sense Detail to Fiction Step 2
    Let the reader experience the story through the character's senses. Not everyone experiences the world in the same way. Decide how your character perceives the world, and use words that convey that perception. This will connect your readers to the character.
    • Instead of describing John's eyes to the reader directly, let your other characters describe them through dialogue. His girlfriend might call them "dreamy blue," while his enemy might describe them as icy blue shards. This shows how each sees John and how they relate to him.
  3. Image titled Add Sense Detail to Fiction Step 3
    Layer details on top of one another to set the mood. Create a series of related details that, taken together, create an image in your readers' minds.
    • For example, in describing a room, you might start with its size, then describe the windows, and then how light shines through them, what's on the walls that the light illuminates and finally how the air in the room smells.

Method 2
Applying Sense Detail to Fiction

  1. Image titled Add Sense Detail to Fiction Step 4
    Envision the story element before you write it. If you're writing about someone entering a cave to take shelter from a rainstorm, determine how each sense would perceive the setting. For example:
    • Sight: Moss clinging to the cave mouth, water trickling off stalactites
    • Hearing: Sound of dripping water, heart thumping in response to peals of thunder
    • Touch: Wet, slippery moss, sodden clothes, blast of cold wind
    • Smell: Musty, stale cave air, stench of sweat and rain-soaked clothes
    • Taste: Chalky taste of water dripping into character's mouth from the cave roof
  2. Image titled Add Sense Detail to Fiction Step 5
    Choose the right descriptive words.
    • Use strong, precise verbs. Saying "water plopped" or "water beetled down" is more descriptive than saying "water fell."
    • Understand both the dictionary definition of words and their meaning to the reader. A "babbling brook" carries the hint of happiness, while a "rushing torrent" suggests fear and danger.


  • The amount and presentation of sensory detail also depends on the story's length. Novels permit more details, spread out over the length of the text, while short stories accommodate fewer details, delivered quickly.
  • It's not necessary to cover all 5 senses all the time. Usually, covering 2 or 3 senses at one time is enough, although you can and should vary which sensory details you employ as necessary. Do cover all 5 senses in the story, if possible.
  • The amount of sense detail used for a story element should be in proportion to that element's importance to the story. Seldom-seen characters or places need little sense detail, while important characters and settings need more of it.


  • Avoid using too many details at once to overwhelm the reader. Think of the famous purple prose by Edward Bulwer-Lytton that begins "It was a dark and stormy night ".

Article Info

Categories: Fiction