Opening to Your Senses: A Series for Writers – Part 4: Touch

Can you remember a time when you walked along a beach at the edge of the water, andDSCN7962 felt the wet sand squish through your toes?  Do you remember placing your cool hand on the hot forehead of your sick child?  When we recall these types of experiences, they reconnect us to the sensation of touch.  Touch is one of the primary ways we connect to our world from the time we are born, and this sensation is woven into our memories. Accurate descriptions of touch make a scene or the description of a character’s actions more vivid.

In this post, I’d like to help you open to your sense of touch. Our sense of touch is experienced primarily through our hands, our mouths, our feet and our skin.  Over the next few days, 013seek out situations that hep you heighten your awareness of this sense and make notes about your experiences.

On a walk, feel the bark of a tree, or a pine cone you find. Around your home, appreciate the textures of various fabrics. Take a bubble bath or go for a massage. Here are a few examples of the types of experience you might focus on:

  • the sensation of warm bubbly water against your skin in the bath
  • the sandpaper sensation of your cat’s tongue licking your hand
  • the rough feeling of tree bark you encounter on your walk in the park 091
  • the soft feel of a skein of pure, natural wool
  • the smooth surface of the wooden handle of a hammer
  • the sensation of clothing against your skin as you meditate
  • the feeling of crisp, freshly laundered sheets

By heightening your own sensitivity to touch, you’ll be better able to describe what your characters experience through this sense.

Descriptions of touch in your writing don’t need to be overdone to be effective. When you read descriptive passages by your favourite authors, observe how they handle description of touch. Here are some examples of situations that can be made more vivid through the use of touch descriptors:


  • affection between characters
  • sensuality/love making
  • the experience of nature
  • insight into a character’s sensitive nature
  • the experience of being wounded
  • aggression (hand tightening around a weapon)
  • violence/attack
  • freedom – the feeling of swimming in a lake

Exercise #1 – Develop a List of Descriptors for Touch 

Imagine you are touchingDSCN7975 the following. Write down as many words as possible describing what it is like to touch them:

  • dry, hot sand
  • cold steel
  • jello
  • a potatoDSCN1671
  • an ice cube
  • seaweed
  • a feather
  • porcelain teacup
  • a freshly roasted marshmallow
  • a wet sponge
  • play dough
  • a scab

Amanda Patterson, founder of Writers Write, has written an excellent post about “whata character feels when he touches something with his fingertips or his skin.”  CLICK HERE to read her list which includes 209 descriptors. Were many of your words on Amanda’s list?  Keep both your list and Amanda’s handy when you’re searching for words to describe touch.

Exercise #2 – Mystery Touch Bags

This is a great exercise to try with a group of writers.

  • assemble a variety of objects that have their own unique texture 018
  • same examples:  velvet, silk, a piece of sandpaper, mung beans, play dough, a squish ball, pine cone, smooth stone, crumpled paper, dry rotini pasta spirals
  • put each object or group of objects in a bag and fold down the top
  • invite the writers to choose a bag, and put their hand inside, without looking at the contents
  • ask them to take time to fully explore what they find, then to do a ten minute freewrite, focusing particularly on describing the experience of touching the object or objects

Listen carefully to others’ descriptions, then add new words that appeal to you, to your list of descriptors for touch.

I hope that this post has helped you open to the wide range of sensations related to touch and that it has given you some ideas for describing touch in your writing. I’d love to hear about your experiences.

Until next time,



To read Part 1 in this series (Visual), CLICK HERE.

To read Part 2 in this series (Sound), CLICK HERE.    

To read Part 3 in this series (Taste) CLICK HERE.

Our next writing retreat will take place on Sunday, May 25, 2014.  We hope you can join us.

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All photographs in this post are by Janis McCallen.

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