Writing the Five Senses: Touch

Hello, lovely ladies and classy gents!

I’m excited to share the fourth part of my newest post series in which I explore how writers can use the five senses to engage the reader. The first three installments of the series addressed sighthearing, and smell. A lot of readers found them to be valuable, so you’re welcome to check them out!

Today, we’ll be focusing on touch. 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 glass of orange Crush, and enjoy!

Touch

In the conventional sense, a touch is a transference. It is the taking of one’s palm and placing it upon another thing as to affect it. Not deviating far from the conventional conception of touch, a writer’s “touch” can prompt a reader to feel, to cry, to laugh, to delight, or to think, if only for a short while. But what does touch entail? Well, the heart of it lies with feeling. Describing touch is not restricted to detailing what one’s fingers feel while grasping something. Remember, the sense of touch encompasses sensation. Considering that a writer’s goal is to “touch” the reader, or impart sensation unto the reader, I think exploring how the sense can be stimulated can greatly benefit one’s storytelling.

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Tapping into the reader’s sense of pain

It is challenging to make a reader feel anything for the fiction you write. Prompting a reader to feel a character’s grief, for example, is a grand task. Seeds must be sewn, nuance must be heeded, and space must be made for the reader’s imagination. There is significant value in channeling emotion from page to person, yet there exists a more immediate way to engage with a reader’s feelings through the sense of touch. How? Bring the pain.

A few months back, I shared an excerpt from my novel-in-the-works. The passage included a description of pain following a character’s reception of a knock to the jewels. What I didn’t expect was the overwhelming reaction to the description. Many who left kind comments on the post mentioned that element of the passage.

I already love Clarence! You have to admire a guy who can laugh after such pain! – By Hook or By Book

Loved their interaction- had just the right amount of humour and, well, pain. – The Orangutan Librarian

Excellent excerpt! I felt the pain a little too much throughout your writing. The focus on it was well done. – Transhaan

I certainly aimed to illustrate Clarence’s pain, but for it to have garnered so much attention by its own accord signified that some sort of connection was made between the readers and the writing. That’s a powerful thing, and it ought to be explored. I suppose the reaction makes sense. Every human knows physical pain, so expressing it in a graspable manner is likely to arouse something within the reader.

Fellow blogger Aimee Davis had me cringing at a particular segment of her short story, Chameleon (as a courtesy, I will mention that Aimee has included a trigger warning at the beginning of the piece, and understandably so. It is grim and mature).

It doesn’t take much for him to push her down. She is small and drunk. She falls against a sharp edge of his metal bedframe left exposed. It cuts into her back, but she ignores the pain and tries to stand, fists balled. She trips over her trembling knees and falls again, cracking her head against the corner of his bedside table.

Darkness. 

– Aimee Davis, Chameleon

Ouch. The phrases, “falls against a sharp edge of his metal bedframe,” “cuts into her back,” “fists balled,” and “cracking her head against the corner” amalgamate to communicate raw pain. In seeking to touch the reader by means of pain, it is important to remember that one ought not to treat descriptive pain as a cheap trick. Davis’ piece is awash with residual hurt, and so I found the excerpt of pain featured above to be entirely fitting and appropriate. Jarring the reader just to spur a reaction is in poor taste.

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Imparting Hot and Cold

Just like pain, sensations such as hot and cold are universal to the human experience. Experiences like bare feet on cold morning tile and the head-pounding heat of summer sun are points of commonality between people near and far. Because stories are reflections of the human experience, a writer can’t go wrong evoking such feelings to add a vivid layer to one’s writing. Check out the following excerpt from my novel-in-the-works.

The Gish gasped at the sight of a swirl of fire breaking away from the burning logs with unanticipated violence. The lash of flame roared as it charged at Clarence faster than he could consider falling away from it. He watched wide-eyed as a stroke of treacherous fire whipped at his face. The blistering heat of it threatened to scald his skin if it reached any further. The darting rope of fire yanked the sweat from his pores and he fell to the ground limp.

Clarence blinked. Sweat weighed heavy on his eyelids. He blinked and the world stung. He couldn’t do anything about the sweat creeping between his lashes, burning his eyeballs. He saw a red blur that he was sure was the sky. He saw brown circles. His head throbbed like a swollen geyser making to burst. He couldn’t breathe. His fingers went numb. Sound fell into itself. His head rolled to one side and Clarence smelled the mocking tartness of spilt berry stew. Then he felt nothing.

Did you feel the heat? Hopefully. Nudging your reader to feel the sensation a character feels can only enhance the richness of their reading experience.

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Using Tactile Detail to Convey Information

Sometimes, the sense of touch is simply the sense of touch. Fastening details to a physical touch can convey a whole lot of information. Take a handshake, for example.

One can communicate emotions, intentions, and character traits through a simple handshake. Some details one can address when writing a handshake include…

  • how the characters’ hands are oriented. Are their hands level with one another, or is one character holding his palm upward and the other downward Planet of the Apes style? Hand orientation can convey the status of the characters who are shaking hands.
  • how firm the characters’ grips are. Are they squeezing hard, or is their embrace loose? Grip can convey underlying emotions harbored by those characters who are shaking hands.
  • what the characters are doing with their free hands. Is one character placing his free hand on the other’s arm? Atop the other’s hand? On the other’s shoulder? Secondary hand placement can convey the proximity of the relationship shared by those characters who are shaking hands.
  • how long the characters’ handshake lasts. Is the embrace brief, or does it last for a long while? Duration can convey the amiability shared by the two characters who are shaking hands.
  • how the hands feel. Is one hand soft? Wet? Warm? Clammy? Callous? Hand quality can convey the lifestyles or emotions possessed by either character engaged in the handshake.

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The list is not exhaustive, but it is a start. More importantly, it’s illustrative of the key point. While a touch can propel the plot, it can also reveal things about the thing or person being touched. Don’t neglect to articulate how things physically feel!

Final Point: One can stimulate the reader’s sense of touch by tapping into the reader’s sense of pain, conveying sensations such as hot and cold, and detailing touches to communicate information. Exploring these techniques can yield exciting results. Hopefully this post prompted you to think about 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 touch? I love hearing from you!

As always, stay classy.

~J.J. Azar

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15 thoughts on “Writing the Five Senses: Touch

    1. You’re right, K.A. It is vital to be specific. We often take something as basic as our sense of touch for granted, so it doesn’t often translate into writing. Thank you for reading, I’m glad you enjoyed the post!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. This is a great post- thank you!
    The tips&tricks don’t only help the writers but reviewers as well.. I like finding out about the ‘back office’ to read my books better, to analyze them better..

    I went and read your excerpt! Man, it was good… very well portrayed and I would like to read your book, for sure 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Liz, I’m so glad you got something out of this post.
      Also, I understand what you mean about the value of getting a “behind the scenes” look into writing books. I’m super interested in the writing process myself (couldn’t you tell? :D) and I like learning things from others a whole bunch.
      I really appreciate you checking out my excerpt by the way! I’m thrilled that you enjoyed it. You made my day! I may be featuring a second excerpt in the near future, so stay tuned. Or maybe I should guarantee I stay one for one and just leave it at that 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for including me 😉 I kinda wondered what you would decide to use, and I thought it might be for this sense lol. I am actually touch averse so touch is a hugely important sense for me and I’m especially sensitive to it because of my aversion to it, so this was neat to see that it is coming across how I wanted. Also, loved your analysis about describing pain. There are some subjects (like those I discuss in my short story) that are not made for flowery descriptions or loping lines. And your word “cheap” is exactly on point. My lit fic style is much different from my fantasy style for this reason although the harshness of my writing comes across in my fantasy too in some places. Some things shouldn’t be written in a traditionally beautiful sense but there is, always, a different beauty to be found in the stark. That’s something that’s super important to talk about but isn’t much so I’m glad to see you hitting on it! Also, your point about handshakes was super on point too! Especially about hand placement; it’s so important to always keep a picture in your head of where your characters are and what their bodies are doing! Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aimee, what an insightful comment! You were a huge help in crafting this post, as you provided a great example, and thus a great platform from which I could explore other ideas. When I was in 6th grade, we read a book called “Touching Spirit Bear.” All I remember about it was that it featured a gruesome bear mauling. The teacher made a huge deal about it, forewarning us and all, and all the guys in the class tried to show that they were tough by skipping ahead and reading it while the girls squirmed and expressed disgust. The teacher cheapened the book for us by making it about the mauling, and that goes with the point you discuss about pain. It isn’t supposed to be exploited. I am glad you share the same view as I on that point!
      As for handshakes, I felt it was a fair example! The implications of a handshake are far more broad than I could have ever imagined, growing up, so I felt it would be cool to explore, applicable as the topic is. Thank you so much for reading, Aimee!

      Like

    1. Writing touch can be tough, right? It’s so ingrained in the human experience, articulating it should be easy, yet it’s not quite the easiest thing to integrate into a story. Thanks for reading, Vinnie, I really appreciate it!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Exactly, it’s something that sounds easy but can be quite the opposite. I think it is the fact that you’re getting across something sensory in a way that the audience must feel.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Ahhh yes! I really think how the author manages to describe this sense will be key to out enjoyment of a lot of action scenes. I also like how this sense can be very subtle or very dramatic, and all of that is in the control of the author and how they want to convey their story! Fantastic post, again, mate. 🙂

    Like

    1. You’re definitely right about this sense being crucial to action scenes. What the author describes the characters as feeling as they engage in action can make or break a scene’s flow and tone. You’re right about touch being a sense which can manifest on two ends of a broad spectrum. You know that I’m an advocate for nuance, but sometimes louder is more effective. Thanks for your comments, Lashaan. I’m really glad you enjoy the posts.

      Liked by 1 person

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