Story Scene Structure with Senses

This lists sensory scenes writing considerations. Make notes for every one applicable. If you have clear ideas for each suggestion, writing first drafts is easy.

Thinking through the viewpoint character, or narrators view, is imperative to writing successful scenes. Readers want to make personal connections with characters, via their actions and thoughts about other characters.

There are more than just the big five senses, taste, touch, sight, smell and hearing. Everyone knows those, but there are lots. You may wonder why I ordered the senses as I have. It’s because it’s what I feel the best order of immediacy is for writers.

Sense is massively important in fiction. It gives readers experiences to feel. Relating to books is what makes them special. Even the most exotic alien world is relatable, when the writing is good at conveying the human condition. 

This list shows senses humans may experience. Alien cultures may perceive others like magnetism, electronic or magical.

- Perception - Time, Atmosphere, Location
- Other - Pain, Pressure, Emotions
- Minor - Taste, Balance, Touch
- Major - Sounds, Smells, Sights

Perception is a requirement. It’s very important to consider first as it sets the scene.

Other, is the senses immediately on characters minds. That’s why they are needed second.

Minor, comes next if characters aren’t distressed. These are rarely used. Just in special circumstances. Writers should think them before the major senses, as they are so rare and unusual.

Major senses follow the minor. They end with sights of objects, which leads to characters. Character description starts with the perception of characters as objects, before moving into the personal realm.

Perception applies to outside effects perceivable by humans. It covers many things.

Time applies to start and end times scenes. Knowing this means, you have an estimated scene length. This is an important pacing factor.

Atmosphere applies to everything in the air. This will mostly be the weather.

Location is the whereabouts of scenes. Include as much detail as you want. You can create fictitious businesses, houses and towns.

Room: House: Road: District: Town: State: Country: Continent: Planet: Solar System: Galaxy: Universe

It’s good doing about any amount of world building, as big or as small as you like. Commonly, you will use the real world, with real places, but go wild with fantasy creations.

If you write sci-fi or fantasy, and your characters are from other planets, solar systems, galaxies or universes, how does life differ? What are the rules in place? Do they use real world physics?

Familiar, memorable settings become new characters. Store these in separate folders, adding documents for each setting. Having this means, you will remember where rooms, streets and mountains are. You may group settings together. Such times include if you have many buildings in one city.

Make documents for each setting used in your scene list. When you have a setting list, make notes for what characters will see, hear, smell, taste and touch when visiting there. You could develop this into a full description to reference in drafts.

It’s good considering frequent weather conditions of settings. You can use them to add depth to situations for effect. Add this as you write. Weather is a changeable beast.

Another idea is making documents outlining objects found only in your realms. This can be futuristic food, drink, magical items and others. These fantasy objects act as characters too.

Why have I included ‘other’ before any ‘others’ I head you ask. It is because this is the most logical order to think about the senses when setting scenes.

If characters are in outer space, or on unfamiliar terrains, they will feel physical pressure. There will also feel the weight of any pressures in their lives.

Pain is a forgotten sense, but how could one forget pain? Your characters will feel it immediately. Tackle it with the same urgency.

Characters emotions will come into play after dealing with their physical pain. Feelings are expressed, once pain is addressed.

Taste, as a sense, is rarely used in fiction, unless during the obvious task of eating. Not many books focus on eating as an activity, due to little action, but some do.

Another seldom seen sense is balance. If your character starts scenes on tightropes, or rickety wooden bridges about to imminently collapse, then readers need to know the fear and lack of balance felt.

Try thinking of what characters think as they touch objects. Something soft may bring up memories. These memories can trigger further story actions, while establishing character.

Different characters feel things differently too. A hardened war veteran isn’t going to complain about rough toilet paper. Toddlers will scream when hurt.  

Make lists of common sounds in locations. This means you have descriptive options for drafts.

Like sound, make lists of common smells in locations. Again, this means you have descriptive options for drafting.

You should make lists of objects noticeable in locations. This can be wall or carpet colours, furniture types, and more. Additional notes mean continuity errors are less likely. If you have a frequently used location, treat it like a character.

After ‘setting scenes’, think about what characters are ready to act, and add them to the fold. Initially, consider characters ‘sights’. This is because they are objects until active.

Focus on the tertiary characters as objects first. Who is filling the background? Then focus on the secondary characters. With whom is the main character going to interact? Then look at the main character and themselves as objects.

Then focus on the main characters personal thoughts about the tertiary, secondary characters, then themselves, before moving to the action. This sets the scene internally for characters. The reader also knows what they know before the scene unfolds.

Happy Creations!