Archive | 1:49 pm

The Magic of Smell in Writing

8 Oct

Really connecting

I recently mentioned in my Writer’s Mailbag series that I have certain smells which instantly transport me back in time to my childhood.

I loved the fall season as a kid.  It just seemed like the best season for smells around our neighborhood.  Mr. Conrad burning a pile of leaves . . . Mrs. Shaffer baking bread . . . my mom frying chicken . . . drives in the country and the smell of fertilized fields . . . I’m sure there is some medical or psychological reason why this happens, but I’ll leave that to those much smarter than me . . . I just know it happens.

Someone mentioned in comments the smell of freshly-mowed grass . . . most definitely!  And someone else mentioned the smell of the air after a shower . . . again, that is a smell which is hard to describe but you know it when you smell it . . . and that’s the point, we all know it when we smell it, we can all relate to it, and it could be used in a story or a novel with that in mind.

The writer’s job is to describe a scene for the readers, and to make that scene instantly relatable to the readers.  It requires talent and hard work to do it.  Let me share with you a scene from “The New Iberia Blues” by James Lee Burke:

“Her living room was tiny, the doorways hung with beads, an ancient Victrola against a wall, the couch and stuffed chairs maroon and purple and tasseled, incense burning in a cup on the coffee table.  Bella wore sandals and jeans and an oversize Ragin’ Cajuns T-shirt and a gold chain around one ankle, a charm balanced on the top of her foot. I could smell ham and eggs cooking in the kitchen.”

One paragraph, carefully crafted, sights and smells categorized, and as a reader I am there.  The description is sparse and yet it plays to my imagination, leaving me to fill in the blanks and make some assumptions, which is also the mark of a master craftsman on the job.  Regarding smell, Mr. Burke chose incense and ham and eggs cooking, two smells most of us can relate to, and that’s an important distinction . . . most of us can relate to it.  I can come up with some rather bizarre smells I remember smelling during my life, but not all of them are relatable, so I probably would not use them in a story or a novel.

Just something to think about before you craft your next scene.

Someone recently asked me . . .

How do I notice all of these things in order to make my scenes realistic?  For me it comes naturally. I’ve always been a shy observer.  For others it takes work and practice.  Remember the senses. What do you smell? What do you see? What do you hear?   We all share the senses, so make them work for you.

Have a great week! If you need me, I’ll be outside soaking it all in.

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”