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Tactile Description

Tactile Description

Here’s a riddle for you. I am jagged or smooth, bumpy or grainy, hard or porous. What am I? The answer is... a rock. Because rocks come in so many forms, they feel many ways to the touch. So while they might be bland as sand, they are also perfect for exploring the tactile description. A tactile description is any description concerned with how something feels. Interestingly, tactile description finds just as much if not more use in the figurative sense as the literal sense.

Definition and Purpose of Tactile Description

A tactile description, which describes how something feels, is used to engage the reader’s memories and emotions. Like with any of the five modes of sensory description, the tactile description is just one way to thus engage the reader.

What makes tactile description different from auditory (sound), olfactory (smell), and visual (sight) description is distance. While you can hear, smell, and see something far off, you have to be touching something to feel it. A gustatory (taste) description is similar, because you have to be touching something to your tongue to taste it.

How to Identify a Tactile Description

This is not as easy as it seems, because there is actually great ambiguity in many descriptions.

Returning to the tactile description and the gustatory description, the difference is easy enough to understand at the simplified level. A tactile description is about touching, while a gustatory description is about tasting. But if you think about it, isn’t taste a kind of touch? Your tongue needs to touch something, after all, in order to taste it.

The key is this: When identifying any sensory description, consider both what the sensor senses and how the sensor senses.

In our example, while the tongue is how in both instances, what it perceives is radically different. The sensation of tasting an apple is different from the sensation of its texture. Thus, by identifying what in a description, you can usually identify whether a description is tactile or gustatory.

The complimentary problem also exists. Sometimes, the what is ambiguous in a description. Consider a "sharp sword" in space. Because something can be both sharp to the eye and sharp to the touch, the what of this description—sharp—isn’t helpful in determining whether the description is tactile or visual. In order to identify that, you will need further context: you will need to know how this sharpness is sensed.

The sharp sword sent shockwaves of pain through the monster’s arm.

Given the context that the monster is feeling pain in its arm thanks to the sword, we can comfortably identify “sharp sword” as a tactile description in this context.

Fighting ambiguity: In writing, ambiguity is almost always going to exist. When all else fails and you need to identify a sensory description, consider the author’s probable intent. In our example about the sharp sword and the monster, it’s unlikely that the author randomly wants the reader to know that the sword appears sharp. Given the focus on the pain the monster feels, the description is almost certainly intended to be tactile.

Ambiguous phrases will crop up on tests, but don’t let them frustrate you. Usually there is just one strong answer, plus a few cheeky “err, but technically!” answers. It is your job to figure out what makes the most sense given context clues.

Objective Tactile Description with Examples

Objective tactile description involves literal touch. It is a description of somebody physically touching something, and how that feels.

The cake was spongy and moist as she bit in.

The incredibly hard candy broke Joe’s tooth.

The rock, which was even harder, broke all of Joe’s teeth.

All three of these descriptions are literal tactile descriptions, because they describe how things are to the touch of the tooth.

Tactile description Rock taste StudySmarterFig. 1 - A tactile description of a rock isn't very appetizing.

Here are some examples that involve the most basic sensor of touch: the hand.

The metamorphic rock was smooth when she grazed it.

The sedimentary rock was grainy and rough when she rubbed it.

The igneous rock was sharp when she poked it.

Of course, any part of the body with nerve receptors can sense touch, and tactile descriptions involving any other body part are also literal tactile descriptions.

Subjective Tactile Description with Examples

A subjective tactile description is opinionated. It is more interpretable than an objective tactile description.

I brushed my fingers against the wood, and it felt perfect for the job.

The snake’s skin felt gross.

He decided the texture was totally unacceptable as he stirred the pot with a finger.

In these examples, the description is totally a matter of opinion. There is no objective or verifiable proof of these descriptions.

Figurative Tactile Description with Examples

A figurative tactile description describes how something feels by comparing it to something else. Either the subject is not tangible or the description is metaphorical.

Figurative Tactile Description of Feelings

People feel emotions: the excitement of romance, the contentment of tranquility, the burning of anger. Many of the descriptions we apply to literal tactile descriptions can also be applied to figurative descriptions. Here are some examples:

After she stole the cookies, he felt dead inside.

Although she ate the cookies, she felt hollow inside.

Tactile description Cookie problem StudySmarterFig. 2 - Cookies causing major problems.

She felt prickly. Anyone who tried to talk to her, she yelled at.

Watching the children being kind to another softened my heart.

Not all figurative descriptions of emotions are tactile, though, so be careful. “I was screaming inside” is a figurative auditory description because the what is a scream, which is heard, not felt.

Figurative Tactile Description Using Simile and Metaphor

These tactile descriptions involve feeling real things, but the description of the feeling is not literal. It will use simile or metaphor to describe the feeling.

A simile is a figure of speech that compares two things that are otherwise unrelated for the purpose of highlighting one quality they share. Meanwhile, a metaphor is a figure of speech that uses one thing to represent another. A simile uses a word such as "like" or "as" to make the comparison, while a metaphor makes a direct connection.

Simile: Surprisingly, the rock was as soft as a baby bird.

Metaphor: She made a one-man tent out of the buttery blanket.

Figurative Tactile Description of Feelings and Ideas Using Metaphor

You can put it all together to create some intensely figurative tactile descriptions.

That breakup was a rough experience.

The notion we could be friends wrapped me in a warm blanket.

When to Use Tactile Description

Depending on whether you are writing an essay or a creative story, you will use tactile descriptions at different times.

Using Tactile Description In An Essay

If you are writing a report or paper on your physical observations of something, like in a description essay, you are likely to use objective tactile descriptions. Figurative tactile descriptions to describe emotions is not appropriate for a persuasive essay or scientific paper.

When writing a literary analysis, you may find yourself using the figurative tactile description of emotions to convey the state of mind of certain characters in the story. Emotions drive many characters, who in turn drive many plots, so when a character feels something strongly, it will probably be described and will probably be important.

Analyze these character descriptions to draw your own conclusions about the characters, how they feel, and why they act upon those feelings. The more powerful the tactile description, the more likely that feeling influenced something in the character and thus the story.

Using Tactile Description In A Creative Story

Use tactile descriptions to describe foreign objects, structures, and creatures. The more foreign something is, the more description you will probably need to cover it. If something feels unexpected, use tactile description to point that out to the reader as well. However, don’t describe how something feels unless a character is actively touching it. Doing otherwise is disjointing for the reader.

If a character feels something that has a strong emotional impact on them, describe it! For instance, if a character reaches into a magical black void, and it feels so cold that it chills them to the bone, make your reader aware of that. Try to make your reader feel the way the character does; paint an image in the reader’s mind that puts them right there. Make the reader feel as though they have put their hand into that horrible void.

Finally, figurative tactile descriptions are almost necessary in describing how your characters feel. Use these descriptions to let your reader into the head and heart of your characters. Whether you are writing a first-person story or a third-person story, you will want the reader to understand how your characters feel so that their motivations are clear. If a character takes a strong action in response to something, the figurative tactile description of their emotions can help the reader to understand the gravity of the situation.

Tactile Description - Key takeaways

  • A tactile description is any description concerned with how something feels.
  • Tactile descriptions can be objective, subjective, and figurative.
  • A very common figurative tactile description is the description of human feeling.
  • You will use and find objective, subjective, and figurative tactile descriptions in literary analysis and description essays.
  • In creative literature, there are many tactile descriptions of foreign items and characters' emotions that can convey their motivations.

Frequently Asked Questions about Tactile Description

"Tactile" refers to the sense of touch.

A tactile description, which describes how something feels, is used to engage the reader’s memories and emotions.

The sharp sword sent shockwaves of pain through the monster’s arm.

Tactile does not have any exact synonyms. It is an adjective, so one might call a tactile description a description related to the sense of touch. Obviously you'd much prefer to use "tactile," given it's so much shorter!

Your tactile sense is your sense of touch. Think about the way things feel to create a tactile description.

Final Tactile Description Quiz

Question

A tactile description is concerned with how something feels.

True or false?

Show answer

Answer

True.

Show question

Question

Is "sharp sword" a tactile description?

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Answer

It depends on the context. You will need to know "how" the sharpness is sensed.

Show question

Question

When would context be most important for a tactile description?

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Answer

When the description is ambiguous.

Show question

Question

Subjective tactile description involve literally touching something.


True or false?

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Answer

True.

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Question

I dodged splinters as I glided my hand along the barrel.

Is this a tactile description?

Show answer

Answer

Yes.

Show question

Question

I felt the cat's soft fur.

Is this a tactile description?

Show answer

Answer

Yes.

Show question

Question

He looked sharp.


Is this a tactile description?

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Answer

No.

Show question

Question

A subjective tactile description is _____ interpretable than an objective tactile description.

Show answer

Answer

More

Show question

Question

The metal felt like an iceberg.

Is this a subjective tactile description?

Show answer

Answer

Sort of. It's a figurative tactile description that uses simile.

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Question

Can a figurative tactile description use "like" to compare how two things feel?

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Answer

Yes, and it often does!

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Question

Talking to my boss felt like swallowing a sword.

Is this a gustatory description?

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Answer

No. 

Show question

Question

The fur was smooth.

What kind of sensory description is this?

Show answer

Answer

Tactile or visual, depending on the context. 

Show question

Question

In a figurative tactile description, the description of the sensation is _____.

Show answer

Answer

Not literal.

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Question

What way might you use tactile description in a literary analysis?

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Answer

Emotions drive many characters, who in turn drive many plots, so when a character feels something strongly, it will probably be described and will probably be important. Analyze figurative tactile descriptions of emotions to draw your own conclusions about the characters, how they feel, and why they act upon those feelings.

Show question

Question

Should you describe every emotion a character feels when writing a creative story?

Show answer

Answer

Almost certainly not. Focus on the strong feelings that will have an impact on character development and on the plot.

Show question

Question

When identifying any sensory description, consider both what the sensor senses and ______ the sensor senses.

Show answer

Answer

How.

Show question

Question

The following is a tactile description. How does the speaker sense the sand?


The sand was smooth.

Show answer

Answer

Feel or see.

Show question

Question

A tactile description can only involve feeling something with one's hand.

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Answer

False.

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Question

Which of the following is not true of a subjective tactile description?

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Answer

It is opinionated.

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Question

When is it more appropriate to use tactile descriptions?

Show answer

Answer

Creative story.

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