Fantastical image of a teenage boy in jeans and shirt sitting on a stack of giant mystical books reading book intently. There is a warm halo-like glow behind him.

Write vivid fiction using emotional truth and the 5 senses

9 August 2022
Posted in: Humanities

When writing creatively, our aim is to draw readers into the world we construct on the page. We need them to suspend their belief; feel like they are really there, with our characters, experiencing their journey. In short, we want them to immerse themselves in our words and the visions they create.

There are many approaches to achieving this feat. In this post I’m going to outline two methods that, in my experience, trump all others.

Creative Writing at City Lit

1. Working with the Senses

When describing a setting or a character in our writing, we often over-rely on the sight sense.

We understand the importance of sparking a visual in the minds of our readers and thus tend to think in terms of what the narrator or the characters can see when transcribing their story onto the page. There are however four other senses that can be used to further immerse your reader in the story: smell, taste, touch and sound.

Engaging with these other senses can bring both your characters and the world they inhabit to life.

Like any technique, it is unwise to overuse the senses. It wouldn’t be prudent, for example, to put all five senses into every paragraph all the way through your book, story or poem. But when used sparingly or concentrated into one particular part of your story - such as the opening - they can quickly make your reader feel like they have been transported into the same space as your characters.

The video above is an example of a City Lit online Creative Writing taster class containing some quickfire writing activities that work with the five senses.

If you are new to Creative Writing and prefer to learn in person, Ways into creative writing is a perfect place to start.

2. Emotional Truth

Another technique writers can use to immerse their readers in their work is that of emotional truth.

Essentially, this means making the thoughts, emotions and physical reactions of your characters as naturalistic as possible, regardless of how strange the fictional situation they face might be.

To offer an example, perhaps your readers have never experienced an alien invasion… I say perhaps because I don’t like to be narrow minded about such things. But, if we’re honest, the odds are that your reader has no idea what it’s like to see a flying saucer hover above their house.

What your reader is familiar with however, is the fear, shock and panic that might accompany such a sight. They have likely been in many situations throughout their life where they have felt these emotions firsthand.

If you take the time to write those emotions in a naturalistic fashion, drawing on your own experience of them, readers will find the story much more relatable and will thus be much more likely to suspend their belief.

Below is another video containing some quickfire writing activities about emotional truth.

Related article: How to get published

Explore Creative Writing courses at City Lit

Be inspired to write and learn how to get published at the college where Andrea Levy, Malorie Blackman, Anna Burns, and other celebrated authors studied.

Join Helen Cox's informative, interactive and fun online courses.

Discover our incredible online Creative Writing courses taught by expert tutors.