Most of us have eleven senses - who knew?

When I began writing fiction, I assembled word lists to correspond to commonly used phrases such as ‘she looked’ and ‘he turned’. Soon I had cut and pasted two pages of stronger verbs from various thesauri on the internet and added words from reference books I own. Eager to find equally strong adverbs and adjectives, I compiled lists for colors and smells. While researching the five senses, I went to Wikipedia, and it was there I first discovered the eleven scientifically recognized senses.

The five commonly known senses (sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste) were defined by Aristotle. The other six seem just as important, especially for a fiction writer. Pain, temperature, time, motion/acceleration, direction, and balance are all essential to fully expressing the human condition. In nearly every scene, authors need to check in with our characters to determine their comfort and actions. If they are teetering on the edge of a cliff, writers need the words to describe their sensations.

There are also internal receptors that regulate breathing, heart rate, vasodilation (flushing and blushing), intestinal distress, and swallowing. While these are also important for accurate character descriptions, they are not usually considered senses. Likewise, sense of ethics, humor, style, etc. should be reflected in your characters’ actions.

The senses are of little impact if we don’t translate them into Emotions (the lifeblood of great fiction) and Body Language (how we communicate emotions and sensory input.) I created lists for those as well. A good writers’ workshop weaves all three sets of lists to help craft compelling scenes. I recently self-published my lists in book form, which is available on Amazon. I have a workshop I put together using the lists and sensory props, which I presented at the RT 2010 convention and the Romance Writers of America national conference. I invite fellow writers to explore these new concepts and see how sensual your writing can become.

I use these lists when I’m searching for a stronger word, a plausible reaction, or a non-stereotypic gesture. I shade each story with different color palettes, highlight certain emotions, and assign characters defining mannerisms. These lists help me stay within bounds so my stories have depth and consistency. In first drafts, they ease my searches. In final edits, they supply the variation on overused terms. I hope they help all writers as much as they do me.

Also, I have put together a 'Workshop in a Bag- Just add Chocolate' for writer's groups to have in case a speaker doesn't show, or if no speaker is available. Using this, any good public speaker can take the outline, handouts, and props and put on an engaging workshop (just add chocolate.) If you want to know more, or would like to have me conduct an  Eleven Senses – Who Knew? workshop, please contact me at

Happy writing,


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