Writing: Using Sensory Details to Enhance or Alter the Mood of a Scene

As part of my writing process, I mentally enter each scene and imagine how my characters are experiencing it through each of their five senses (sight, smell, sound, taste, and touch). I then weave the description into the prose (without overdoing it–hopefully). I firmly believe this helps the reader feel like he or she is part of the story. I also think it make the story feel complete and less hollow.

Today, I rediscovered something: Adding sensory details can also enhance or even alter the mood of a scene. Instead of describing how that works, I figured I would post examples of today’s work. (Bear in mind that this is only the unfinished 2nd draft.)

In this scene (which takes place in a paranormal thriller I’m finishing), the main character is about to sleep alone in her house for the first time since someone broke in.

*****

Before:

Later that evening, Abby crawled into bed, leaving the light in her bedside table on. For what felt like hours, she stared at the ceiling, listening for any sound that might indicate someone was in the house. The last time she looked at her clock, it said 2:38.

After:

Abby glanced out the bathroom window. The sky had turned a muted shade of reddish-orange. She finished cleaning the bathroom mirror and headed into the kitchen to make some chamomile tea. She sat at her dining room table, sipping tea and watching the sky turn from orange to indigo. The chirping crickets that once filled her with joy now made her dread sleeping alone. Finally, she finished her tea and crawled into bed, leaving on her bedside table light. For what felt like hours, she stared at the ceiling, jumping with each creak and rattled pipe she once passed off as old-house noises. She decided to focus on break-in sounds rather than a groaning old cottage. She listened for cracked windows, opened doors, and turning doorknobs. The last time she looked at her clock before she fell asleep, it said 2:38.

*****

I might eliminate a few of these details, but it 1) gives me words to play with, 2) enhances the creepy mood of the scene, and 3) gives the reader a better grasp of what Abby is feeling, which is necessary for the next two chapters.

You might also want to check out these two past posts on sensory details and descriptive techniques:

Do you have M. B. Weston’s Elysian Chronicles on your Kindle yet? Get them now for only $2.99–less than the cost of a Starbucks Latte! (Click here for A Prophecy Forgotten on Kindle and Out of the Shadows on Kindle.)

Fantasy, steampunk, and paranormal novelist M. B. Weston is the author of The Elysian Chronicles, a fantasy series about guardian angel warfare and treason. Weston is also the hose of The Final Cut In Movies radio show that airs on TMV Cafe Monday nights at 8:00 EST. For more information on M. B. Weston, visit www.mbweston.com. To receive notification of M. B. Weston’s book releases click here to subscribe to Dark Oak Press & Media’s e-newsletter.

Click here for a full listing of M. B. Weston’s published books, and be sure to check out her ever-growing list of published short stories here.

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About M. B. Weston

Award-winning author M. B. Weston is one of the fantasy genre’s new, emerging voices. The Elysian Chronicles, her flagship fantasy series about guardian angel warfare and treason, has been referred to as, “…filling a big part of the void that will be left by the final Harry Potter,” by award-winning author, Vincent O’Neil. Weston’s writing attracts both fantasy and non-fantasy readers, and her audience ranges from upper-elementary students to adults. The Elysian Chronicles is being adapted into a graphic novel, and her newest book, The Sword of the Vanir (working title), is due out in Spring 2013. A gifted orator, Weston has been invited as a guest speaker to numerous writing and science fiction/fantasy panels at conventions across the US, including DragonCon, BabelCon, NecronomiCon, and ImagiCon. She has served on panels with such authors as Sherrilyn Kenyon, J. F. Lewis, Todd McCaffrey, and Jonathan Maberry. Weston has spoken to thousands of students and adults about the craft of writing and has been invited as the keynote speaker at youth camps and at several schools throughout the US.
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3 Responses to Writing: Using Sensory Details to Enhance or Alter the Mood of a Scene

  1. Erik Conover says:

    You’re title grabbed me and drew me right in. I am an actor who studies a sensory based method. The ability to draw emotion based on a sensory experience is an amazing powerful tool. I’ve only been writing for about 3 years. I believe a strong sensory foundation to be the key to strong emotional writing.

    Again, great post, thank you for sharing this.

    Erik
    http://erikconover.com/

    Like

    • M. B. Weston says:

      Thanks so much! When I first started writing, I rarely used sensory details and barely even described my characters. It wasn’t really until I realized that we all experience the world through our 5 senses that I “got it.”

      Good luck with your writing and thanks for your encouraging words!

      Like

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