Are Your Senses Turned On?

I just returned from a trip to Colorado to visit my niece. One of the highlights of the trip was taking the Royal Gorge Route train ride based in Cañon City. Because this trip had been planned in advance, I decided to make it a writing exercise. I wanted to be intentional about using my five senses to store up ideas for the future. Here are five ways to help make your words exciting to your readers.

Open Your Eyes

Have you noticed that we ignore most of what we see? As writers, we need to be able to describe objects to our readers so they know what we are talking about. Here is what I saw:

The day was beautiful, with blue skies and puffy white clouds. The train, which was painted silver, orange, and black, was at least fifteen cars long, and included three open air cars and at least two domed/observation cars. The car we were assigned to had a few tables, but most of the seating and tabletops faced the windows so we could admire the views.

As the train moved alongside the sometime calm, sometimes turbulent Arkansas River, we passed through towering cliffs of granite and volcanic rock. Old fashioned telephone poles with the iconic blue glass insulators traversed the cliffs to the north, and to the south I could see the remnants of the water pipeline that had been constructed with convict labor many years ago.

We have to be the eyes for our readers, so it’s important to include visual descriptions.

Open Your Ears

What do you expect to hear on a train? For me, the comforting clickety-clack of the wheels were thrown off by the high pitched squeal of the wheels as they hugged the tracks on a turn. As one traveled from car to car, the sound of the sliding doors was almost drowned out by the rushing sound of the wind and of the clanking of the metal couplings as they shifted with the pull and tug of the cars. Snippets of conversations were heard, most in English, but a few in Spanish and Hindi as people of various nationalities were on board.

Sounds are important in our writing. It adds another layer of description when visuals aren’t enough.

Think About Touch

A train has all sorts of things to feel: the rough edges of chipped paint on the guard rails of the open air car; the smooth texture of the polished oak window frames and table tops, the coldness of the chrome handrails by the stairs, and the bumpiness of the small knobs on the metal flooring as you walk from one car to another.

Touch is often overlooked, so I think it’s good to focus on that sometimes to add dimensions to our stories.

Think About Taste

Our reservations were for the lunch train, so I enjoyed a delicious turkey and bacon sandwich with lettuce and tomato and purple onion. The aioli sauce that was meant for the sandwich was used to dip my Kettle chips in. And though the sauce was a tad spicy, it added to the flavor of the chips. Yum, yum.

Taste can be an effective tool to help a reader become part of the scene you are describing.

What About Your Nose?

Trains can carry all sorts of smells, like the scent of the soap in the bathroom, the hint of perfume of a passerby, the whiff of sweat from someone who had been out in the open air car too long, the fragrant odor of wild flowers growing along the river, or the refreshing aroma of coffee brought with dessert.

Using the sense of smell in your writing can help make a scene come to life.

Paying attention to our senses wherever we are makes us better writers. It’s important that we intentionally use our eyes, our ears, our nose, our touch, and our taste to store up remembrances that we can use in the future for a potential story to make it memorable for our readers.

Where have you gone that you could have been more intentional with your senses?

Catherine L. Osornio has written inspirational articles for a women’s ministry newsletter, over 200 leveled reader stories for a school’s reading program, fiction and nonfiction articles for Clubhouse and Clubhouse Jr. magazines, The Declaration of Independence from A to Z, Thunder Comes a Rumblin’, plus various work-for-hire projects. A former elementary school librarian, Catherine is passionate about sharing the love of reading. She enjoys cartooning, illustration, and reading kids’ books. Email her at or visit her at

Title image credit: Photo by Isabella Fischer on Unsplash

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