The Five Senses
Let’s review our five senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch. Sight is usually the predominant sense covered in stories; most people describe what their characters are seeing. But the other senses sometimes get short-changed.
I’ve read that every intimate moment needs at least two senses involved. So, while your protagonist may be gazing with longing into her beloved’s eyes, that’s not enough; you need to add at least one more sense.
Here are some examples from Acceptance:
Anselm strolled along the quiet, darkened streets, enjoying the warm breeze off the ocean. He inhaled deeply; the scent of blooming flowers was so strong it was almost suffocating, and yet it was pleasurable at the same time.
He leaned closer to a pine tree. There, among the smell of sap and pine, was Ciaran’s scent in one small spot.
Kalyn rolled down the car window and appreciatively sniffed the salty night air.
With his foot, Anselm nudged the figure in the back of the leg. It made a wet, gurgling sound, and lifted a hand, dark and glistening with blood.
The cicadas were blaring like police sirens—loud even over the sound of the tires crunching on the sand-and-gravel driveway.
Sounds of a fight were coming out of the living room. Something glass was thrown against a wall, shattering.
The night all around them seemed perfectly silent, as if all the insects—and even the air itself—were still and listening.
The pearls were cool and silky against her skin, but his hands were slightly cooler.
It felt as if he had stabbed her with two hot knives. She tried to cry out, but his hand muffled her screams—his fingers digging in, bruising her face.
Her blood pulsed out with a violent force, and he sucked hard on the wound—every motion of his mouth causing it to burn worse. She could feel some of her blood trickling hot and sticky down her neck and between her breasts.
She took a sip of water. It was so cold, she could feel it slide down her throat and into her stomach. But the first taste made her suddenly thirsty—thirstier than she had been before. She downed the entire glass, but it still didn’t feel like enough.
Kalyn turned her head away as he began to scream—a horrible, drawn-out scream that sent chills down her spine. She covered her ears with her hands and tasted bile in the back of her throat; if she had eaten recently, she would have been sick.
She could smell blood and death coming from the other room. Actually, it was more like a taste than a smell, stuck in the back of her throat.
You may have noticed that in many of those examples, there’s actually more than one sense engaged. Hearing something horrible can make you feel sick–even taste bile; the feel of a warm breeze can be linked to the scent of flowers.
I don’t think that most people write description strongly on their first draft. If you’re like me, you are in a rush to tell the story, so you need to get out the action and dialogue. But description can easily be added when you go back to edit. Take time to see, hear, feel, taste, and smell what your characters are experiencing.