(To survey other elements and author quotes, visit the Elements of Fiction home page)

(All quotes by Diane Ackerman unless otherwise indicated)

“The senses don’t just make sense of life in bold or subtle acts of clarity, they tear reality apart into vibrant morsels and reassemble them into a meaningful pattern.”

“Taste and smell can safecrack memory in the shadow of an instant.” Don DeLillo

“Fiction operates through the senses, and I think one reason that people find it so difficult to write stories is that they forget how much time and patience is required to convince through the senses. No reader who doesn’t actually experience, who isn’t made to feel, the story is going to believe anything the fiction writer merely tells him. The first and most obvious characteristic of fiction is that it deals with reality through what can be seen, heard, smelt, tasted, and touched. Now, this is something that can’t be learned only in the head; it has to be learned in the habits. It has to become a way that you habitually look at things.” Flannery O’Connor

“We live on the leash of our senses.”

“Art is an engagement of the senses.” Rick Bass

“The reading of good writing can engage the senses, can stretch them and keep them alive in the world.” Rick Bass

“The wind on my face, touch, smell, almost taste.” Ulf Wolf

“Before beginning to write, I’ll take a moment to call up an image of the place, drawing from memory and filling my mind’s eye, and eye whose vision grows sharper the more it is used. I call it a mental eye because that’s the phrase with which we’re all familiar, but what I actually want to do is open all my senses.” Stephen King

“Fiction begins where human knowledge begins—with the senses—and every fiction writer is bound by this fundamental aspect of this medium.” Flannery O’Connor

“In descriptive writing, give a thought from time to time to the senses other than sight. Sound, above all, is evocative.” Ursula K. Le Guin

“Taste and touch are forbidden to the detached author.” Ursula K. Le Guin

“The fiction writer finds in time, if not at once, that he cannot proceed at all if he cuts himself off from the sights and sounds that have developed a life of their own in his senses. The novelist is concerned with the mystery of personality, and you cannot say much that is significant about this mystery unless the characters you create exist with the marks of a believable society about them.” Flannery O’Connor

“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. It is a good deal easier for most people to state an abstract idea than to describe and thus re-create some object that they actually see.” Flannery O’Connor

“A lady who writes, and whom I admire very much, wrote me that she had learned from Flaubert that it takes at least three activated sensuous strokes to make an object real; and she believes that this is connected with our having five senses. If you’re deprived of any of them, you’re in a bad way, but if you’re deprived of more than two at once, you almost aren’t present.” Flannery O’Connor

“Belief, in my own case anyway, is the engine which makes perception operate.” Flannery O’Connor

“Tatlin saw yellows in Turkey that his eye could taste like honey on the tongue.” Guy Davenport

“I had discovered, through writing, that I was able to transport myself into a wholly consuming imaginative world, one that affected all five senses, and was able to bring back the imagery and raw experience of that state and describe it in vivid and exacting detail.” Darius James

“The stimulation of one sense stimulates another: synesthesia is the technical name, from the Green syn (“together) + aisthanesthai (to perceive). A thick garment of perception is woven thread by overlapping thread.”

“Daily life is a constant onslaught on one’s perceptions, and everyone experiences some intermingling of the senses.”

“Not everything we feel is felt powerfully enough to send a message to the brain; the rest of the sensations just wash over us, telling us nothing. Much is lost in translation, or is censored, and in any case our nerves don’t all fire at once. Some of them remain silent, while others respond. This makes our version of the world somewhat simplistic, given how complex the world is. The body’s quest isn’t for truth, it’s for survival.”

“Our senses crave novelty. Any change alerts them, and they send a signal to the brain. If there’s no change, no novelty, they doze and register little or nothing. The sweetest pleasure loses its thrill if it continues too long.”

“The body does indeed sing with electricity, which the mind deftly analyzes and considers. So, to some extent, reality is an agreed-upon fiction. How silly, then, that philosophers should quarrel about appearance and reality. The universe will be knowable to other creatures in different ways.”

“For convenience, and perhaps in a kind of mental pout about how thickly demanding just being alive is, we say there are five senses. Yet we know there are more, should we but wish to explore and canonize them.”

“How do you know but that every bird that cleaves the aerial way is not an immense world of delight closed to your senses five?” William Blake