Writing the Five Senses: Sight

Hello, lovely ladies and classy gents!

I’m excited to share the first part of what is sure to be my richest series of posts to date. I’ll be taking a look at how writers can use the five senses to engage the reader. Today, we begin with sight. I’ve selected excerpts from the works of fellow bloggers (with their permission) to show examples of each sense used effectively, as well as excerpts from my novel-in-the-works (with my permission) to show examples of my attempts to use each sense effectively. Buckle up for some sensory stimulation, grab a cold bottle of Coca-Cola, and enjoy!


Storytelling is a visual art. If I tell you, “Upon hearing Kylie’s absurd Starbucks order, the angsty barista rolled his eyes and began preparing the meticulous drink,” you’re not likely to smell the coffee smell characteristic of Starbucks. You’re not likely to hear the indie-acoustic music characteristic of Starbucks. You’re not likely the taste the poorly prepared coffee characteristic of Starbucks. Instead, you’re likely imagining the situation as it is presented to you: visually. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Sight is the foremost human sense, after all. Telling what we see is the default means of storytelling. If we were bats, we would put more weight in auditory description, but we aren’t (well, not all of us. I, for one, am the Batman). Because we tell stories this way (visually), it’s crucial that writers spice up their visual description. One can go about merely describing what a setting looks like, and at times, a functional description is all that is needed, but “functional” isn’t what I’m looking to ponder today. Stimulating is! I want to investigate how a writer can flood a reader’s mind with vivid images that vibrate pleasantly.

Stimulating sight through nuance:

To start, let’s take a look at an excerpt that Gordon Ramsay might call, “RAW!” Raw in a good way, that is. In the following passage from fellow blogger A.Z. Anthony’s short story, Kiss of the White Mistress Part 1, Anthony evokes a handful of powerful images by writing with nuance.giphy (2).gif

The stew settled into a calm heat, steam rising in thick curtains as Jao took a steadying breath and stared down into it. A shadowy silhouette stared back up at him. His face, he realized, but different. A ghastly mockery of what it once had been. This was not the face of the man his father had raised. Not the face of the man his little brother had grown up knowing. But it was his face now, like it or not. His confinement here had changed him, bent and hammered him into a fouler and crueler man. Soon, his captors would learn just how foul, and just how cruel. It was almost a blessing, Jao thought, that his companions were not here to see it. A.Z. AnthonyKiss of the White Mistress Part 1

Stunning, right? Stunning, but not flashy! This passage resonated with me the first time I read it because Anthony’s words conveyed the situation at hand so clearly. My mind produced a full image of what was occurring (Of course, the image was bolstered by the preceding and following paragraphs not included here). A deeper look reveals why this passage painted such a clear picture. Did you catch how Anthony relaxes his prose prior to Jao’s reflection? He uses the phrases, “stew settled,” “calm heat,” and “steadying breath” to lower the passage’s heart rate, so to speak. Then, he darkens the passage’s tone and introduces the reader to backstory regarding Jao’s haunting past. Jao witnesses his “shadowy silhouette” and begins to reflect. We see the words, “confinement,” “bent,” “hammered,” “fouler,” and “crueler,” all of which stand in stark contrast to the initial, relaxed details.

Anthony only described a man looming over a pot of stew, yet the muscles he added to the scene made the scenario engaging. It made it appealing to “look at.”

Stimulating sight through scale:

Likewise, a reader’s sense of sight can also be stimulated by vivid, sweeping images. Take this passage from my novel-in-the-works as an example.

From bow to stern, port to starboard, the Ping Dong was surrounded by boundless blue water. She was a moving island of red sails and black softwood cutting into the sea with an arrow’s intent. Her spread sails were shaped like dragon’s wings, or perhaps carp’s fins. In any case, her sails bore an unmistakable Chinese aesthetic. Even the Ping Dong’s hull was cut much like a sleek fish, curving like a bowl and paneled with red squares which seemed scales when laid atop the black planks that comprised the ship’s hulking hull. Creaking and groaning as she bobbed up and down swelling waves, the Ping Dong flew eastward in a forward manner, never slowing in the face of wind or tide.

Hopefully, this passage communicates a living image which you can visualize in great detail. This sort of method is fitting when one intends to introduce the reader to a new setting or a transition to a new time. One wouldn’t be wise to apply description this heavy to every page, but precise application can provide for grand results!

Stimulating sight through acute attention to one particular detail:

Have you ever read a story where the narrator attributes a name to a character who is unknown to him/her based upon a glaring physical attribute (ex: Katniss Everdeen naming an opposing tribute, “Foxface”)? This technique serves a writer well in that it helps him/her to identify a character shorthand, yet it also expedites the reader’s ability to form an image in his/her mind of said character. Think about it. If my character is about to fight five men, I could certainly take it upon myself to describe each opponent, but the description is likely to dissolve soon as the action starts. Furthermore, asking the reader to remember what is in all likelihood frivolous information simply isn’t cool. Labeling a character by a distinct feature clarifies what he/she is like. To me, “Foxface” characterizes far more than the tribute’s face. I perceive the character as being nimble and red-headed. The name sums up her demeanor as much as it does her face.

Final Point: One can stimulate the reader’s sense of sight by weaving subtle description, by painting broad illustrations, and by applying acute attention to small details. A healthy mix of these techniques can yield exciting results. Note, there are a plethora of other ways to play with sight. This post highlights only a few fine techniques.

What do you think? Did any of these methods/examples strike you as effective? Fellow writers, how do you go about stimulating a reader’s sense of sight? I love hearing from you!

As always, stay classy.

~J.J. Azar

44 thoughts on “Writing the Five Senses: Sight

    1. A.Z. Anthony has a raw, earthy style that I find to be engaging and mature. The short story I pulled the passage from held my attention through each of its four parts. I highly recommend checking Anthony out for his writing pieces and his pieces about writing! Thanks for stopping by!

      Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed the post, Eva! Starbucks is all too easy to make fun of, though I do occasionally treat myself to their frappuccinos in spite of my jesting. Those are hard to mess up considering the amount of sugar and syrup they put in them, but still…I love my salted caramel, gingerbread, and smoked butterscotch fraps. No, I’m not proud.

      A.Z. Anthony did a fantastic job, right? It’s a cool passage that reads even better in context. He expertly weaves backstory into the narrative, making for a rich read. Thanks again for stopping by!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I’m not making fun of Starbucks when I say I like the example. I was focusing on the events and interaction in a generic sense.

        We have a Starbucks across the lane, so I end up there periodically, though Second Cup coffee is stronger and more coffee-like. I don’t do all the syrups and flavours. I’m a European Latte person — pure and simple, without all the additives (though honey and a sprinkle of cinnamon are nice). I’ve been getting Starbucks coffee beans, grinding them at home, and making my own, stronger coffee. Very nice. (Those flavours you mention thoroughly gag me, but I like your writing, so I’ll keep following your blog 😉 )

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Oh, gotcha! I’ve never seen/heard of Second Cup coffee. Perhaps it’s not a US thing? I’m not a coffee person to begin with (though my time as a student/bakery employee is slowly converting me) so when I DO go for a cup, it’s more of a treat than a functional simplicity. When it comes to tea, which I drink often, I go for honey and that’s all. THAT, I drink like a civil person. I’m glad Starbucks does it for you though! And I’m glad you’ll continue following despite my roguish flavored drink tendencies.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Great post, J.J.! The section from your work in progress was very vivid. I feel like I know that ship now!

    I love the concept of this series and look forward to future posts. If they’re as helpful as this one (I’m sure they will be), it’s gonna be a heck of a series.

    Thanks again for the feature, though the last thing my ego needs is to be encouraged further. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, A.Z.! Your passage provided the post with MEAT. Evidently, you did a splendid job, judging by the response!

      I’m looking forward to sharing future installments, and I’m glad you found this one helpful. I’ve found some other passages from other bloggers that are sure to impress. Stay tuned.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I really enjoyed this post 🙂 It is always nice to read a writer’s thoughts on the process. I am not sure that I have ever truly had the opportunity to discuss technique with a writer. And while we may not think about it. There are definitely many plays that can be put into place when attempting to achieve the right visual or effect.

    I did enjoy these examples. All very well written. My biggest problem with descriptive writing it when it is overdone (i.e. Caraval). I do not deal well with fluff 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it! 😀 Studying technique is cool, to say the least. At least, I find it cool. You’re right, often times we don’t think about technique, but it’s always there! There’s a reason why x passage flows a certain way.

      Exactly, super descriptive writing can easily overwhelm and annoy the reader. Ain’t nobody got time for fluff! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Strong, diverse examples. Thanks for sharing.
    I often think back to one instructor who told me that a piece of writing needs to fill multiple roles, so I often approach descriptions from the angle of “what else can this description do?”
    I’m particularly fond of using descriptions to reveal something about the protagonist through what they notice, and how they refer to it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Adam! That’s good advice you’ve received! Using descriptions to reveal things about the protagonists can elevate a story to another level, especially when there are multiple point-of-views involved!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Pepsi > Coca-Cola. Said no one ever. 😉 Really like the idea behind this post and those to come. It dissects all the senses clearly with fantastic excerpts to back them all up. Curiously, when writing, do you think about these ways to write them, and then adjust your ideas accordingly or do you write and then realize that you used x or y technique without really knowing? Fantastic post, bro. 😉

    – Lashaan

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, thank you so much, Lashaan! Pepsi is Coca Cola’s less-talented younger brother, no doubt. As for how conscious this process is, it depends. Often times I write a scene with the intention of using a certain technique for a certain effect (I’ll feature an example of this in the “Sound” post). Sometimes I find a nice flow in a particular section after the fact due to my word choice and sentence structure and work with that.

      I’m curious as to how A.Z. Anthony synthesized his featured passage, as the nuance he employs seems masterfully deliberate. Maybe he can chime in and tell us! Thanks again for visiting, Lashaan!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hey there, buddy! For Valentine’s Day, we decided to embark on a little mission to thank some of our most favourite bloggers out there. And yes, you definitely fall in that category! In case you ever missed/miss it, here’s the link! Big thank you for all the awesomeness you bring to the blogosphere and for your continuous presence around our blog! 🙂


        – Lashaan

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m elated you’re elated, Mr. Weech! I’m working on future installments and I’ve included a passage of yours in one of them. I’m learning a whole lot through the drafting of these posts, and I’m glad you see it fit to refer back to. More to come, stay tuned.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Mate, I’m FINALLY easing back into it. I’ve just finished doing some extensive outlining. I’m talking over a dozen characters, the dynamics of an entire town, background information, the works! Excited to dive back in. Thank you for asking, it helps to keep me accountable! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Writing the Five Senses: Hearing – J.J. Azar

  6. Pingback: 200 Followers + Q/A Announcement! – J.J. Azar

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