You have probably heard that you should consider the five senses when you are writing in order to make your writing feel real to the reader. Including the perceptions of your character will suck the reader into the scene and give them a sense of being there.
I agree with this wholeheartedly, but admit that I have a hard time with this myself. It’s so difficult for me, in fact, that I actually go back through my writing when I am revising just with the sole purpose of adding in more description.
I recently came across a “List of Perceptics” that L. Ron Hubbard (yes, the founder of scientology) claims to be all the possible senses one can hone. I don’t know about all that (actually, I doubt it very seriously), but I do know that the list is a goldmine when it comes to providing ideas for describing how your character feels and experiences the world around them.
These 57 “senses” seem to be easily categorized into the 5 main senses we were already aware of – but it’s broken down into almost all the ways our characters’ senses may manifest, and includes some that are humanly impossible. It’s easy to think about what our characters might be seeing, smelling, tasting, hearing, or touching, but what about internal feeling like heart rate, hunger, sadness, or sense of balance?
Disclaimer: I’m not a scientologist. I am simply using this list for ideas. I’m going to attempt to explain what each of these are (or more accurately, make some stuff up) and possibly explain how it could be used in your writing.
1. Time – Your character may be aware of the actual time passing or if it seems that time is flying by or slowing.
2. Sight – A basic human sense, and probably what most of us use to describe a scene.
3. Taste – A basic human sense. Your character may have a sensitivity to taste, have a foul taste in his mouth, be eating something, etc.
4. Color – Obviously, this is something you see, but could help you to remember to use colors in your text.
5. Depth – Most people with two functioning eyes have depth perception. Use this to describe distance to an object or show your character’s sense of depth perception is off.
6. Solidity (barriers) – Possibly how firm or strong something is?
7. Relative sizes (external) – This one reminds me I can use relative sizes to describe the scale of something overbearing or tiny.
8. Sound – A basic human sense, and pretty self explanatory. What does your character hear?
9. Pitch – I would use this along with sound… to help describe a voice or… anything really. Specifically refers to highness or lowness.
10. Tone – Describe a voice, a situation, a muscle…?
11. Volume – Maybe sound. Maybe capacity of something?
12. Rhythm – Is your character aware of the rain dripping in a pattern? Maybe she taps her foot off-beat.
13. Smell – A basic human sense and pretty self-explanatory.
14. Touch (pressure, friction, heat or cold and oiliness) – A basic human sense. Think about what your character is touching or what is touching him.
15. Personal emotion – This should definitely be in your writing! How does that make your character feeeeel?
16. Endocrine states – If someone was aware of their hormones and glands, that would be quite uncommon and probably not all that interesting to the reader, unless it’s your character’s superpower. The endocrine system doesn’t include salivary glands, sweat glands, or glands within the gastrointestinal tract, but those things just gave me lots of things to consider describing!
17. Awareness of awareness – Is your character aware that they aren’t aware? Maybe they’ve been drugged and everything is foggy, or hypersensitive.
18. Personal size – Your character could be aware if they are the shortest person in the room or that insult is making them feel two inches tall.
19. Organic sensation (including hunger) – This is formally defined as a feeling stemming from deep inside the body.
20. Heartbeat – Usually, writers have no issues describing heartbeat, but just in case you forgot…
21. Blood circulation – Your character’s leg fell asleep?
22. Cellular and bacterial position – Umm. Make something up.
23. Gravitic (self and other weights) – Don’t forget weight! Especially if your character travels to other planets.
24. Motion of self – Most characters should be aware of the motion of their body. Use it to describe something they’re doing!
25. Motion (exterior) – Describe the motion of something else.
26. Body position – I’d say this is normal and self-explanatory.
27. Joint position – Maybe this is too much detail… But, perhaps your characters joints are stiff.
28. Internal temperature – Not usually something a person is aware of, but rather a character might be aware of feeling cool or hot as a result of the external temperature.
29. External temperature – Your character could be aware of an extremely hot or cold room.
30. Balance – Did your character get dizzy on the merry-go-round? Did they get hit in the head and now they feel unsteady?
31. Muscular tension – Are their muscles tense in fear?
32. Saline content of self (body) – I’m not sure your character would be aware of this, other than knowing they need to drink some Gatorade.
33. Fields/magnetic – Humans don’t detect magnetic fields, but if your character has superpowers or isn’t human, perhaps they would.
34. Time track motion – From what I understand, this is the ability to form chains of associated incidents. So maybe your character can mentally piece together all the times they have stubbed their toe or exactly what actions brought them to this specific time and place.
35. Physical energy (personal weariness, etc.) – Your character can probably tell if they are tired.
36. Self-determinism – Has your character made up his mind and nothing will stop him? Or is he aware that he isn’t sure and could be deterred?
37. Moisture (self) – Is your character wet from the rain? Is your character thirsty and have cotton mouth?
38. Sound direction – That cry for help came from over there!
39. Emotional state of other organs – Erm. I have no clue. Maybe it means other organisms. Yeah–just be aware of other character’s emotional states.
40. Personal position on the tone scale – This seems similar to emotional state, but apparently the tone scale ranges from apathetic to enthusiastic.
41. Affinity (self and others) – Your character probably knows if they like themselves or others.
42. Communication (self and others) – How well do they communicate?
43. Reality (self and others) – Is your character in touch with reality?
44. Emotional state of groups – Can your character perceive if a mob is angry or excited?
45. Compass direction – Your character may have a great sense of direction, or he may get lost in his own closet.
46. Level of consciousness – Your character is aware or your character is in a coma. You decide.
47. Pain – Pain is hard to ignore. If your character is in pain, they should probably be thinking or talking about it.
48. Perception of conclusions (past and present) – Does your character think she has come to a good conclusion?
49. Perception of computation (past and present) – Is your character aware of and how do they feel about the way they process information?
50. Perception of imagination (past and present) – Imagination can influence perception, no?
51. Perception of having perceived (past and present) – Oh yes, my favorite. What is your character’s awareness of their awareness? What do they think about having the ability to know all this crazy stuff? Possibly useful if you’re writing scifi or fantasy.
52. Awareness of not knowing – You don’t know what you don’t know, you know?
53. Awareness of importance, unimportance – Is your character delusional and think they are the most important person in the world? Or perhaps they are actually the most important person in the world, but completely unaware of it.
54. Awareness of others – I think this is pretty self-explanatory. Some people pay more attention to others and some are in their own little world.
55. Awareness of location and placement (masses, spaces and location itself) – Yeah, so just make sure that add some location detail about the character and their surroundings.
56. Perception of appetite – I thought we covered this, but maybe it goes beyond just being hungry. Maybe it’s whether your character is always or never hungry!
57. Kinesthesia – Any awareness of body movement that wasn’t covered in motion, body position, joint position, or muscular tension…
I am in no way saying you should use every single one of these in every sentence, scene, or even book! Actually, please don’t. That would be ridiculous. No, this is just for ideas. I repeat – Ideas!
If you would like to print a copy to keep handy, I’ve got you covered. Just click the image below to download a PDF!
Hopefully this get’s your brain a-joggin’. Or at the very least gave you a little chuckle. Or further cemented the idea that scientology is whack.
Lastly, if you need help putting all those descriptors you just thought of to work, I highly recommend this post by Rachel Giesel on Using Detail to Bring Your Story to Life.
Now go write something!