Can You Sense Your World?
Using the Five Senses to
Build a World for your Characters
©Dawn Rachel Carrington - All Rights Reserved
World building is a time-consuming task, especially for
fantasy/paranormal fiction, but there is a way to make it less daunting and even entertaining. It’s all about
the imagination, and that’s what we fiction writers use best.
Before you step outside the bounds of reality to build this
world, though, allow me to point you in the direction of one of the absolute best references for
worldbuilding that you can find on the Internet. Write it down, make it one of your favorites, and visit it
often. The information provided at this site will challenge you to build a world that simply cannot be
Written by American Fantasy Author Patricia Wrede, (Star Wars,
Episode III-Revenge of the Sith, The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, and Lyra), the guidelines are as detailed
as any I’ve seen, and you can’t go wrong using them.
That said, I know you’re not reading this article just for a
link. You want to do more than build a world, you want to entice your readers to return time and again, make
them yearn for the ability to visit the world themselves. Your mission can be accomplished by the five
senses. Wait a second. Did you read that correctly? What do the five senses have to do with building a world?
Take a look, and, hopefully, you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about.
Imagine you’re an investigative journalist who has been sent by
World Magazine to explore a newly discovered territory. No one has ever seen this planet or city, and it’s up
to you to describe it to the public. Yes, you’ve brought your video camera along, but you really want to pull
your readers into the world. After all, not everyone gets to travel like you do. So you’re going to have to
give them a virtual tour. For safety’s sake, let’s just say oxygen is utilized on this planet. Now, where do
Let’s begin with sight. From the very first moment you set foot
on the planet or in the city, what do you see? Is the land lush and green or desolate and barren? Is the
world illuminated with artificial light or does the planet/city have its own source of light? Describe each
and everything you see as vividly and eloquently as possible. This could be your chance at winning a Pulitzer
for your journalistic endeavor so you want to be as thorough as you can. Oh, and don’t forget that not
everyone has the imagination you do. So you have to give them vivid imagery to spark
Now what do you hear? Is the air filled with the sound of
unique animals/birds/insects? Is the planet/city a bustling metropolis with its own brand of transportation?
Maybe you can hear the sound of a turbo-lifter. What about people? Can you hear them walking or maybe you
hear them whooshing through the air? Do you hear the hum of machines you can’t recognize? It’s okay if you don’t know what
you’re hearing. You can explain that later on in the book.
Now what do you feel? Do you feel an icy rain coating your skin, or is the
planet’s own sun heating your shoulders? Is there a rush of a breeze fluttering through your hair? If you were to
take off your shoes, what would the ground feel like? Go ahead and do it. (Remember the Pulitizer!) Is that
concrete? Marble? Glass? Or just cool grass? Maybe it’s another kind of material your readers won’t know anything
about. If that’s the case, not only will you need to describe the material, you will need to help your readers
“feel” it. Let your reader touch what you feel by the marvelous use of description.
What do you taste? Okay, so it’s time to stop for a break. It’s
been a long day, after all. Does this planet/city have water? If not, what do they drink? What does it taste
like? What about the food? Is it the type of food any human would eat, or does the world/city have its own
unique type of food? Can you grab a bite to eat anywhere, or is this a planet whose inhabitants don’t require
nutrition to exist? If so, I hope you packed a lunch! What other ways could you use your sense of taste to
describe this world?
Finally, what do you smell? Does the air carry the scent of
salt or does it have its own unique scent like a fresh-squeezed lemon? If it’s a busy city, what types of
fumes do you smell? Did you catch a whiff of perfume or was that just the aroma of the city’s unique
atmosphere? Or perhaps the atmosphere is enclosed inside glass, the air reminding you of the scents you would
find in a hospital, clean, clinical, and sanitizing.
Now that you’ve gathered your information, you’re ready to
write a journalistic piece that will allow the magazine’s readers to experience this world without ever
leaving their home. Hopefully, you can now build a world that can be tasted, touched, seen, felt, and inhaled
just by the beauty of your imagination.
About the Author:
Dawn Rachel Carrington is a multi-published author of fantasy
and paranormal romance as well as romantic suspense. She currently writes for Ellora’s Cave, Red Sage
Publishing and Samhain Publishing. Also a freelance editor/writer, she has written non-fiction articles for
Absolute Write, Writer2Writer, Funds for Writers, Writer’s Weekly, and Writer’s
Dawn resides in historical Charleston, South Carolina and
as well as being a writer, she is the editor-in-chief of Vintage Romance Publishing, LLC, a publisher
specializing in historical romances, and a consultant for start-up businesses.