Sensuous Imagery

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Sensuous Imagery

Writers often use description in an attempt to allow their readers to imagine characters, moods and settings.

One way of making these descriptions effective is by appealing to the readers' senses. Your readers should be able to see, feel and taste the world you are describing.

Sensual imagery is an excellent way of bringing your writing to life.


Visual details are probably the most important, especially now when we all watch a lot of films and television. A writer should aim at creating a kind of film of images running through a text, so that their readers can imagine themselves there.

Sensuous Imagery


Without sounds, your film of images would be a silent one. Details of sounds can be particularly effective in creating atmosphere. Think how the sounds of a busy building site would be different from those of an empty beach and you'll get the idea.

Sensuous Imagery

Writing has a few advantages over TV, computer games, or videos. In all of those only two senses can be directly stimulated: Sight and sound. Writing can appeal to three other senses.


Our sense of smell is strongly linked to our memory. Smells can instantly conjure up a feel of a particular place or time. The salt wind on a sea shore, the smell of boiled cabbage that is intimately linked to school dining halls.

Sensuous Imagery


For readers to believe in the world you are creating, it is important that this world is physical, that it has textures. Using lines that appeal to our sense of touch can help to achieve this.

Sensuous Imagery


Closely linked to the sense of smell, touch is generally a more difficult sense to express through your writing. However, like the others, it can help to bring writing alive and make it vivid for its readers. Even for tired old examiners!

In the following interaction, match the different senses to the passages listed by dragging them onto the question marks. Mark your answer to see how you got on:

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Alliteration is when two or more words in a line begin with the same letter or sound.

In 'The [u]s[/u]hingle [u]s[/u]crambles after the sucking surf',for instance, the poet has used alliteration of 's' sounds to create the sounds of the sea.

Onomatopoeia is when the sound of a word re-enforces its meaning. Words such as crash, slither, scrape, whizz, boom are onomatopoeic. Onomatopoeic words are bursting with energy; we hear their actions as if spoken aloud. They are words bursting with energy and liven up any writing.

Onomatopoeia can work in lines as well as in single words. The alliterative line quoted above is clearly onomatopoeic.

What do you think the war poet, Wilfred Owen, was trying to imitate in thefollowing, famous, onomatopoeic lines:

'Only the stuttering rifles rapid rattle can patter out their hasty orisons (prayers)?'

In comparison, we do not 'hear' words such as 'chair' or 'justice'; these words are not onomatopoeic.

Using alliterative and onomatopoeic effects in your writing will help to bring any piece to life.

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