Flannery O’Connor writes in The Nature and Aim of Fiction:
“The beginning of human knowledge is through the senses, and the fiction writer begins where human perception begins. He appeals through the senses, and you cannot appeal to the senses with abstractions.”
She goes on to cite “a lady who writes, and whom I admire very much,” that it takes “at least three activated sensuous strokes to make an object real.” So invoking three senses, presumably, will trigger enough neurons in the brain to transform words on a page into something real—that is, an experience for the reader, not an abstraction.
I really like how Frances Mayes elaborates on the senses in her book, The Discovery of Poetry: When seeing something, consider “qualities of focus, shape, color, perspective, shadow, speed of movement, brightness, clarity, composition.” When hearing, think about "sound of pitch, ranges, rhythms, and silences." When describing movement, capture tension, pull of weight, muscular balance, gravity. When thinking of touch, consider texture, temperature, density.
This list always leads me to interesting, fresh details.
Causes Nina Schuyler Supports
National Resources Defense Council