The Importance of Touch in Fiction

Touch is one of the lesser used senses in fiction. But I’d argue one of the most important to creating a real scene in your work. Everyone uses sight. Sometimes too much. The same with sound. But no sense elicits more of an emotional response. And what’s your end game is if you’re worth a damn, isn’t it?

The two strongest feelings within the human experience are pleasure and pain. One could argue that all other feelings fall under one of these umbrellas. Lust. Disgust. Anger. Sorrow. Everything. And no sense shows us pleasure or pain more than touch. That’s what forms our memories of these emotions, so when taken back to them, our hearts flutter or our body aches. Touch can be a lot of things. It can be happy. Like the feel of fresh grass under your feet walking barefoot through your yard. It can be sad. The touch of a hand you’ll never hold again. It can be painful. Something as simple as a fist or complex as an illness. It can be a relief. The hug of someone dear you haven’t held in a while.

Let’s take pleasure first. Don’t we always? Think of the things that have given you physical pleasure in your life. Each and every one is rooted in touch, isn’t it? The feel of your lover’s hand. Regardless of where said touch was. The wind through your hair. Sun on your skin. Your richest memories include the feel of fabrics, too. The way cool, cotton sheets feel on a summer night. Doubly so if your legs are freshly shaved. Am I right, or am I right? The unabashed sleek, sexy feeling that silk or satin give you. The more of that that you include in scenes that are about pleasure, the more it’s going to remind your reader of times in their life in which they experienced pleasure. And that makes your fiction richer. Because now that’s a shared experience with the character who went through a similar emotion. And that’s a very good thing for you.

Now for pain. I’m a bit of an expert on this one as well, I’m not ashamed to admit. Hell, maybe I’m even a little bit better for it. Emotional, as well as the physical pain, is very well-described by touch. It’s easy to describe physically. A punch to the jaw. The dull ache of a headache. To the sharp pain of breaking a leg. But touch can go deeper than that to demonstrate pain. The pain of the absence of touch, for example. It’s a great way to describe loneliness for your characters. Or the touch that didn’t last long enough. On top of the way that a hot day in the desert reminds your heroine of someone she misses. The memory of touch is just as good as the touch itself. The longing or the painful memory is effective. Maybe even more so than the incident of touch itself.

So when in doubt, have your character touch something. Or someone. Whatever tickles your fancy. And be sure to let something touch them back. That’s even more important. Action and reaction. Pain and pleasure. Use it to your advantage. Because what are you trying to do if not emotionally manipulate your readers?


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