Improve descriptions by appealing to ‘touch’

As with sight, we’re constantly barraged with the sensation of touch, but often it goes ignored. American and Western culture prefers personal space that prevents a lot of touching, and our buildings tend to be climate-controlled, leaving us neither hot nor cold. Our furniture is designed to be soft enough that our bodies do not get sore when sitting or reclining. While most writers certainly wouldn’t complain about such comfortableness, it does challenge us to work for images that appeal to a sense of touch that readers can relate to.

Since touch is almost a background sensation in readers’ lives, its use ought to be reserved for moments when it can offer meaningful descriptions of an object, to raise dramatic tension or to offer insights into a character. As the sensation of touch is powerful in real life, sloppy use of it in your fictional world can wreck the story’s believability. Deftly handled appeals to the sense of touch, however, can make for a striking description that keeps the reader turning the page.

Recognizing the power of touch, author Jack Skillingstead appeals to the sense of touch in the opening line of his recent short story “What You are About to See” (which appears in the August 2008 Asimov’s Science Fiction): “I sat in a cold room.” Readers used to climate-controlled buildings instantly find the situation peculiar. The exoticness of appealing to the sense of touch further serves to pull the reader in. The line also does a good job of establishing the story’s tone, one in which our main character and the other government officials around him are never quite comfortable, as they’ve made contact with an alien whose craft crashed in the Nevada desert.


My name is Rob Bignell. I’m an affordable, professional editor who runs Inventing Reality Editing Service, which meets the manuscript needs of writers both new and published. I also offer a variety of self-publishing services. During the past decade, I’ve helped more than 300 novelists and nonfiction authors obtain their publishing dreams at reasonable prices. I’m also the author of the 7 Minutes a Day… writing guidebooks, four nonfiction hiking guidebook series, and the literary novel Windmill. Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.