21 Senses Part 4

LC, founder of eFrog Press, hosts the Take the Leap blog and regularly blogs about all things ebook!

Here is the fourth and final post on the 21 Senses. Previous posts can be found here:

An Introduction to the 21 Senses (Part 1)

21 Senses Revisited (Part 2)

21 Senses Part 3

Below are the last  six models from two of the finest writing teachers I have ever known—Gary Bradshaw (1948-1994) and Frank Barone, active poet and retired teacher (derived from  the 21 Senses exercises in Donald Murray’s A Writer Teaches Writing). 

Consider adding these senses to your writing toolkit.


MEMO: To All Teachers

Sally Haines, one of our school’s counselors, gave birth last night to an eight pound baby girl named Sara Anne. Sally requests that we postpone our visit until she and her baby have returned home.

Jake Barnes, Principal


This Sense creates a situation in which the writer or a character is emotionally touched by someone else’s predicament and comes to the aid of that person.

As my son breaks through an opening, dribbling, pushing the soccer ball forward, an opponent slide crashes, and cleats up into him from behind. My son cartwheels forward. No referee’s whistle sounds. Suddenly, he shrieks, clutching his Achilles tendon. In anger I yell, “Blow your damn whistle, ref, when there’s a vicious foul.”


This Sense creates a situation in which the writer or a character sees a problem. The problem moves him, but he cannot offer relief.

I placed the last item in my shopping cart and wheeled it into line behind the mother with the screaming baby and the tactile three year old whose hands  touched  and  grabbed  and  pushed  and  re­aligned all the candy bars, chewing gum, mints, and magazines  within  his  reach.  The mother tried to divide her attention equally between the screamer and the toucher, but it became obvious that they outmatched her. At the point of feeling sorry for her, I saw her bend over and with her face eyeball to eyeball with Sally Screamer she hissed out two deliberate  words, “Shut … up.” Then she straightened up and slapped Tommy Toucher across his face. As a parent I wanted to engage her in reasoned discourse on her lack of control and debate with her on her methodology of discipline, but I only slouched behind my cart and tried to block out the wails and sniffles that offended my ears.


Bending over her paper, her pen raced across the page. From time to time, she looked up, caught my gaze, smiled mischievously, and wrote on. Once she whispered to her seatmate, pointing at me. Then she pounced on her paper again. I wonder, am I the target of her pen?


“Hi, Gerry. How was your game?”

“Totally bogus. I took a nine on Number 5. I teed it up and dunked it into the lake. Then I shanked my drive into the trees on the right. The ball landed up against a tree, and I couldn’t get relief so I took a swipe at it and whiffed. I punched it out with a seven iron short of the green, and then hit a wedge into the sand trap. I blasted out long but hit a good approach and sank a two-footer for nine. After that it was bogie, bogie, double bogie, bogie and a big fat 42.”

“Some days are like that, Gerry.”

“Right. I’ve got a starting time for a foursome at three. See you tomorrow.”


This Sense puts words in some specific shape or form.


New friend

come together

risk within the circle

share, listen, laugh, and change into

old friends.


I had difficulty working with my father. I could never match his high standards. Whatever I did either displeased him or received suggestions on how to do it right. He demanded perfection, or so it seemed to this teenager. The other day I angrily criticized my fourteen-year-old son for not using his paintbrush properly. His response showed me how I felt about my own father when my son said, “I’m sorry I can’t be as perfect as you.”


I would love to hear how you have used the 21 Senses in your own writing. Do you think sensory detail is overrated? Share any techniques you have for “showing” not “telling.”


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