Sensory Story Writing
This post describes how to write a short story for beginners, or if you’re a teacher, activities for teaching short stories. There is a sensory story example, and there are also sensory story writing prompts at the end. You can use the exercises and examples below either for your own writing or for your students. A great way to begin writing short stories is through the sensory story.
A sensory story focuses on using imagery to create a picture for the reader. Your goal here is to SHOW the reader, not just TELL them the story. How do we do that? Use SIGHT, TASTE, TOUCH, SMELL, and SOUND details.
First, read this story and highlight as many examples as you can find of sensory details.
Polly sat at her favorite table, right by the window. Though rain streaked the glass, she could still see passersby as they huddled underneath umbrellas or pulled on their hoods, battling the wind. She took a sip of her mocha, letting the bitter chocolate linger on her tongue. Normally, she would revel in the moment’s coziness, sipping a hot drink in the warmly lit cafe as it stormed outside. Red paper lanterns hung from the ceiling and abstract paintings with bright splashes of primary colors lined the walls. Yet Polly could only see gray.
Was he one of those faceless pedestrians, determined to escape the rain? They were all blobs of navy blue, black, or charcoal, hurrying along the sidewalk outside, trying to reach their car or whichever building they walked toward. But one of them had to be him. He had to be on his way.
Polly’s phone dinged in its chirpy way, notifying her she had a text. Her stomach flipped over. Was he canceling? Maybe that was better. They could both just forget the whole thing had ever happened.
She gripped her phone, in its glittery pink case, and read the text. What time will you be home? It was her mom. Her mom, the one person in the world Polly believed she could trust. Until now.
Polly slid her phone away, refusing to answer the text. Then she realized his presence. He stood by her table, looking down at her. Polly glanced up to find a handsome boy with a face that was so familiar, yet not. He had the same hazel eyes, so unusual with their green and golden specks, that she saw every time she looked in the mirror. He had the same thick, straight brown hair as her mother did; Polly wished she had hair like that instead of her fine, light brown waves. He smiled, revealing one dimple on his left cheek, a mirror to her right-sided solitary dimple.
She’d never seen him before, yet Polly knew him instantly.
“Hi,” she said, finding it necessary to reach into her deepest, strongest part inside to find her voice. “Bryan?”
He unzipped his soggy hoodie. Even though it had Roosevelt High Football splashed across the front, advertising toughness, the sweatshirt was clearly inadequate to protect him from the rain. “Yes. Thanks for meeting me.”
“Of course.” She gestured to the other chair at her table. “Please, have a seat and tell me how you realized that you’re my brother.”
Did you find examples of all five senses? In any story, there will most likely be more examples of sight, sound, and touch, and fewer of smell and taste. The important part is to be specific, and use concrete details rather than relying on adjectives. Also, remember to zoom in on the moment your character is experiencing. All good short stories focus on a pivotal moment in a main character’s life.
If that feels like a lot to remember, just relax, start writing, and see what comes out.
Now, write your own sensory story, using as many sensory details as you can. If you need help to get started, you can continue the story you just read, because it’s obviously not finished! Or, try one of these prompts:
- What happens when your biggest rival shows up unannounced at your birthday party?
- You go online and see an article about you. The headline? “Let’s Get Revenge on This Deceitful Liar.” How did this happen?
- You’re standing in a flat, barren field. You smell something burning, but see no smoke or flames. Worse, there’s no sound. It’s like you’ve gone deaf. From far away, you see a group of people wearing torn black clothing. They come toward you. You want to run but feel paralyzed. What happens next?
- Your mother has advice for you. She says, “You know what your problem is? It’s….” Finish that sentence, then write the scene of what you tell her next.
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