20 Ways to Deepen Your Writing to Keep the Reader Engaged

A few years back, I discovered Marilyn Kelly’s Eleven Senses—Who Knew? reference book for creative writers that included word lists for 11 senses and more. It’s a little nugget I keep in my writer’s treasure chest and thought I’d share. Though the word banks are a great resource, infusing each scene with the following items will deepen your writing to keep the reader engaged:

  1. Touch
  2. Taste
  3. Sight
  4. Smell
  5. Hearing
  6. Temperature
  7. Pain
  8. Balance
  9. Motion/acceleration
  10. Time
  11. Direction
  12. Breathing
  13. Heart rate
  14. Vasodilatation (flushing and blushing)
  15. Intestinal distress
  16. Swallowing
  17. Ethics
  18. Humor (funny or sarcastic)
  19. Style
  20. Mannerisms


Can you find all 20 in the sample excerpt I created below? (Bonus: By leaving out the above items, how much information about Sarah would be missed?)

The buttery mahogany banister slipped through Sarah’s grasp as she limped down the second story staircase. Though the crimson and cobalt Persian runner’s silky fibers caressed her bare feet, her scarred soles felt nothing but a tingling numbness. Though Swiss Coffee painted the twenty-foot walls from the hickory hardwood entry all the way to the stained glass cathedral ceiling, she couldn’t blink away the image of charred walls that stood in their place only six months prior. Though the open French doors beckoned Sweet Pea blooms and the chirp, chirp, chirp of chickadees inside, the sweetened melody couldn’t override her memory of her child’s blistered flesh and Danny’s dying screams.

Her throat tightened and a cool tear trickled down her flushed cheek.

“Honey? You don’t have to go….” Her fiancé Andrew leaned against the foyer’s archway, nearly blocking her passage to the front door. He held her stilettos against his charcoal Italian suit.

She’d had the wool suit custom designed to fit his blocky shoulders and slim waist. Meeting him at the charity for burn victims had been the best thing to happen to her since her divorce. Andrew, having lost his parents to a fire, understood her pain.

Briefly, her gaze captured his espresso gaze before dropping to the onyx cane tucked in the crook of his arm—a place where Danny had once laid auburn curls that matched her own. Andrew’s watch read 9:30 a.m.

Same time as when the electrical panel had flickered her bathroom lights the morning of the fire. If only she hadn’t fallen asleep downstairs, she would have heard the breaker pop, smelled the smoke, and heard Danny’s cries….

She swiped her cheek, adjusted her cowlneck dress, and cinched the half-inch belt tight. Because of the burns she’d received trying to save Danny, she’d missed the entire trial where her ex-husband, Raphael, had maintained his innocence up to the point jury deliberations began. Now the jury had only to render its verdict. Guilty. Or innocent? She’d wanted to believe Raphael was innocent—in fact her gut still twisted when she thought of her childhood sweetheart, of Raphael, purposely targeting the estate her grandparents had gifted them for a wedding present. The one Raphael slaved over, from installing the travertine floors to designing the custom molding, until he captured her European flare perfectly. The one their child…mostly, their son—even if Raphael had given up his fatherly rights when he’d divorced her, she’d believed he’d loved his son—would have grown up in.

As her belly swelled, though, something between them changed. Raphael believed she and her child would be better off without him. No matter how much she’d disagreed, he’d let them go. No monetary strings attached either. Said he wanted nothing but for her to be happy.

Nothing made sense to her then or now. But still one question lingered in her mind: If he’d ever loved her, why had he destroyed everything important to him?

Her chest pinched and couldn’t stop her heart from surging. Hanging from her neck, she clasped the cross necklace she’d worn since confirmation. Her father’s warning about loving someone from a different socioeconomic status conflicted with her upbringing. But considering her predicament, she should have listened. Only she’d let her heart lead her into loving Raphael. Had her entire life been reduced to a cliché’ where the less fortunate seemed to target the rich?

She prayed for strength to stiffen her knees when the jury found Raphael guilty and then let out a long sigh as Andrew pulled her close. Andrew had warned her, too, but she hadn’t listened. She and Danny had paid the price.

After she slipped on her heels, she held her hand out, palm up. She’d been practicing walking in those heels for the past week and nodded to Andrew, who set the cane against the smooth plaster wall. Andrew would stand by her now. “I have to face Raphael sooner or later. In fact, I need to see him. And I need him to see what he did to me—not just the scars on the outside but what can’t possibly ever be healed.”

Warmth from Andrew’s palm infused her cheek. Sweetened lemon curd from the breakfast scone they’d shared in bed infused his kiss. “Facing him isn’t going to be easy darlin’. Like I’ve done, let me go in your place. I’ll report back.”

“Picking daisy’s all day isn’t my forte. I’ve got to do something. Anything. So I’m not staying here alone one more day.”

“You’re not alone, Sarah. I’m never going to leave you.”

His drawl made one side of her mouth tilt up, but she’d be damned if the sight of Raphael, or Andrew’s over protectiveness, would steal her resolve to see justice served. From the Murano bowl on the foyer table, she grabbed the bronze jaguar attached to three keys. She glanced back as she hobbled out the front door not believing in her very instinct to judge what lay hidden beneath a charming façade—even Andrews. “I’ll drive.”


The next time you draft a scene, make sure during edits that you check for 20 ways to deepen your writing to keep the reader engaged.

Happy Writing,

Cyndi Faria


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