I don’t – at least not in the first draft. I’m so focussed on getting the story written, bringing out character and unfolding the plot, that I tend to forget about everything other than what the characters see and what they are saying. I don’t even mention other things they can hear except the speech.
But when editing, I make a point of trying to use all the senses. In each short story, I think all the senses should be used. In a novel, I’ll try to get most of them into every scene. It’s not always possible and not worth forcing it – in a scene where a teacher is dealing with unruly pupils it’s tough to get ‘taste’ into the scene, for example, but think for a moment and you’ll certainly find a way to get ‘smell’ in there.
Take another scene – a heart-to-heart chat between a couple walking along a cliff top path in early summer – my first draft would be all about their conversation. But in the edit, I’d have them notice the vanilla scent of the gorse, taste the salt in the air, feel the breeze on their cheeks, hear the rhythmic crash and suck of the surf on the shingle on the beach below. I’d add some colour – startling blue sky, vibrant yellow gorse; and maybe, if I was feeling vicious or wanted some contrast, I’d give one of them a sharp little stone in their shoe.
If you want your reader to really BE there, in your scene, when they’re reading it, you need to employ all their senses when describing the scene. But as I said in an earlier post, try make those descriptive details work in more than one way, and add more to the story than just colour. In the scene above, if the heart-to-heart is a break-up discussion, the beauty of the scene could be set in contrast with the ache in your character’s heart. How can something so terrible happen on such a gorgeous day? Or the scene can compliment their emotions. This is the calm before the storm, the last lovely, carefree day, and the contrast comes later. Or, something about the scene can remind your character of something from their past – they say that the sense of smell is most closely linked to memory, so use that to cue a flashback…
I remember one short story by Della Galton in which a beautiful garden was described in all its detail. The twist was that the main character was an elderly blind woman living in a nursing home, and the non-existent view from her window was being described to her by her well-meaning daughter. The old woman knew (from her other senses) there was no garden, only a concrete yard, but didn’t let on to her daughter that she knew. So senses can provide you with a twist. Another friend used the condition of anosmia (lack of sense of smell) to provide the twist to a prize-winning story.
So, use the senses to add colour, cue flashbacks, provide a twist. Make your reader experience your scene, not just read it. Involve all the senses. This is where the written word has an advantage over TV and film – until they invent scratch’n’sniff TV, at least!