I think most writers understand that the goal of sensory description is to convey a specific image to the reader in a unique way. A good story alone isn’t enough, nor is having strong characters. Something needs to bring them to life, and that thing is sensory description.
Description is all about showing, and showing well. And what we choose to show to the reader should always have significance. Random details will bore the reader while targeted description lends power to the manuscript, not only highlighting the character’s experiences, but also by sometimes hinting at mood, atmosphere and themes.
By taking a moment to describe how white paint chips dust the overgrown grass beneath an old, leaning fence, it is possible to convey a mood of sadness or loneliness, hint at themes of decay or loss, or even suggest a quiet endurance.
Whatever emotion you’re trying to evoke through description (either through a comparision or contrast), make sure it is done with purpose and it highlights, rather than detracts from, the character’s inner feelings.
If your intent is to reinforce a theme or life stage (a turning point, a loss of innocence, a difficult choice) through description, take care to choose setting symbolism that your reader will pick up on.
Describing shapes can be difficult, which is why we often rely on similes or metaphors to convey what we mean. However, the comparisons a writer chooses must fit the story well. Round as an orange isn’t going to help you of you live in a world or climate where oranges do not exist or the character has never seen one.
And what about textures, say, the feel of a wool sweater against the cheek? The first thing that comes to mind is sandpaper, but the image is quite overused and may fall flat on the page. The right comparison is paramount for creating strong imagery, which puts readers in the scene, almost allowing them to experience what the character does.
And this is where the Color, Texture, and Shape Thesaurus comes in!
In each entry, we will explore one of these concepts and list real world examples for it. We hope this will offer you a great starting point for finding the perfect comparison or contrast for each descriptive need.
All entries for this thesaurus can be found here. And, good news! This thesaurus has also been expanded and integrated into our online library at One Stop For Writers. There, the collection has been augmented to include 15 new entries, as well as the individual entries themselves being expanded. This collection is also cross-referenced for easy searchability so you can find exactly what you’re looking for. Interested in seeing a sampling of the updated Color and Pattern, Shape, and Texture thesauri? Head on over and register for free at One Stop!
Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling.