This is the 3rd and final installment in Jeanne Leach’s series on deepening descriptions through sensory science. Please see week one’s introduction for an understanding of the “untapped” senses we are talking about here.

Below is a continuation of the descriptions of and writing applications for the rest of these senses.

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Sense of Time

One field of study within psychology and neuroscience is time perception, which relates to the sense of time. The sense of time differs from the other senses in that time cannot be exactly apparent. Humans can perceive short periods of time, as well as durations that are a significant portion of their lifetime. Many experiments have noted the relationship between perceived and measured time.

Although psychologists often agree that time appears to go faster with age. One day to an eleven-year-old would be approximately 1/4,000 of their life, while one day to a 55-year-old would be approximately 1/20,000 of their life. This is perhaps why a day would appear much longer to a young child than to an adult.

It is important to note this in our writing. Most of us have written about a moment in time that felt like hours had passed, when it was only a minute. Keep in mind that this particular sense occurs more and for longer periods of time the older the character becomes. Younger people would tend to experience these moments in real-time. These people think it is unnecessary to make plans.

Another illusion of time can best be illustrated by two people each taking a journey that takes an equal amount of time. The person who covers more distance will appear to take longer than the journey covering less distance, even though they took an equal amount of time.

Some researchers attempt to categorize people by how they differ in their perception of time.

People with a present perspective of time have a tendency to believe that the actions in the present do not significantly affect the future. They don’t think an action taking place in the present will affect the probability of a future outcome.

People with a future perspective tend to believe that an action taken place in the present increases the probability of a future outcome. These people are very goal-oriented, with a high-capacity to make conclusions about future results. They usually prepare task lists, use a calendar, and tend to wear a watch.

Time urgency refers to the need for a swift response or action to reach a particular goal. It can be described on an axis with a scale from high to low.

These two dimensions generate four types of personalities.

Organizers — high time importance and future time perspective. High awareness of time. Illustrated by scheduling tasks and activities and striving for higher-than-average achievement.

Crammers — high time urgency and present time perspective. Characterized by high awareness of time. Must wield control over deadlines. Very competitive, determined to achieve. Impatient.

Relators – Low time urgency and present time perspective. Not given to care about deadlines or passage of time or taking risks. Acts impulsively, focuses on present tasks and on relationships.

Visioners – Everything the same as relators, except they don’t focus on present tasks or relationships, but concentrate on future goals.

Writing application

I’ve already mentioned many ways you can apply the sense of time more effectively to your writing. When fleshing out our characters, be sure to include their time perspective. There will no doubt be a moment or many moments when their perception of time will be important to the story. Keeping the character true to themselves will create solid, three-dimensional characters.


Directional awareness, most commonly noted in birds,  is also found to a limited extent in humans. While bees and birds and animals like cattle possess a directional instinct with regard to the Earth’s magnetic field, man does not. Humans must rely on scientific findings in order to navigate their way in the world. While most people depend upon compasses and maps, there are occasionally people who can stand in a certain spot and instinctively “know” which way is north. Scientists disagree on whether this is a true scientific phenomenon or simply a fluke of nature, but they cannot deny the existence of this occurrence.

Writing application

When you create characters, you can determine whether they are one of the “unusual” people who have a keen sense of direction or if they must read a map in order to get out of a situation. Remember that reading maps, or noting the position of the sun or stars is a learned technique.

Example: You have a female protagonist from New York City who is on a first-time camping trip in the woods with her cousins. She needs to go to the bathroom, so she must walk a short distance before she can make sure nobody will see her. When she finishes, she walks back the way she came there, but somehow manages to miss the campsite. Not wanting to look stupid, she turns and keeps walking. Then she calls out for help, but nobody responds. What does she do?

You must determine if she has any survival skills. Does she know how to use the trees as a directional guide? Does she know how to tell direction using the sun? If she does know these things, then it must be written into the story somehow where she learned these tools. If she’s one of those unusual people who has a basic “knack” for finding her way, then that too must play into the story. You cannot just have her find her way through the woods without having established how she knows these things. Without this information, the story won’t be believable. A New York City gal who can find her own way back to her cousins just doesn’t sound right. . . unless. . .

Using Sensory Science for Deeper Descriptions Series

Part 1 – Balance and Temperature

Part 2 – Muscle/Joint Motion and Pain

Part 3 – Sense of Time and Direction