Using The Sense of Smell In Writing.

Sep 8 2021, 1:05 pm in , ,

 Humans can detect over ten thousand different odors.  

 Our scent receptors are capable of smelling a piece of clothing and determining if it was worm by a male or female.

 Nothing conjures memory more than smell. Scent is a memory bomb trigger. Memories elicit emotions and we want to provide that in our writing.   

 Using smell effectively is not as easy as using other senses. We provide details to map out other senses. When we see something, we can describe it using visual adjectives like red, blue, bright, big, and so on.

 For touch we can examine textures—a damp, thick Fisherman’s Sweater with fish scales here and there. Describe the crispness of the hair on a lover’s chest. That would be the guy BTW. 

 That feeling when someone gently touches your hair and you’re home alone.

 As the author you relay to the reader what a character tastes. It is sweet, salty, sour. Bitter. Pepper hot.

 But who can map out a smell?   

 It’s nearly impossible to describe a scent to someone who hasn’t been exposed to it. We use words such as smoky, floral, fruity, sweet, but we’re describing smells in terms of other things (smoke, flowers, fruit, sugar).

 Describing how smells make us feel—disgusting, intoxicating, sickening, pleasurable, delightful hypnotic— uses word pictures to bring out a reader’s emotional response. 

 “Eww. You stink.” Or “Eww. Get away. You smell like my brother.”   

  It’s more describing how the smell makes you/character feel.

 Again, what we want in our writing.

 Smell is the most evocative sense. Pheromones are nature’s romantic calling card. Writers rely on it to increase intimacy between heroes and heroines. Studies have been done proving women are more attracted to men who smell the least like their own genetic codes. I think it was in a German study, women were given men’s sweaty, stinky t-shirts and asked which they liked best. I dunno maybe it was an early Bachelorette show. Any how they found their brothers and fathers shirts to be the worst smelling.   

 When you use a sense description make it applicable to the character.

 A truck drive is more likely to describe senses in the way he experiences them. “Dinner smells like burning tires.” 

 In the movie Apocalypse Now Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore (Robert Duvall) is often quoted as saying, “I love the smell of napalm.” That alone, taken into context of the movie is intense. But the quote is not complete. It reads: “Napalm, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that. I love the smell of napalm in the morning. You know, one time we had a hill bombed, for 12 hours. When it was all over, I walked up. We didn’t find one of ’em, not one stinkin’ body. The smell, you know that gasoline smell? The whole hill. Smelled like… victory.

 That is chilling. It eludes to the horrors of war that the character faces, and the way it’s warped Kilgore’s mind.

 If you think you think using smell isn’t important in your stories consider we can’t taste until we put things into our mouths. Can’t see if our eyes are covered. Can’t experience touch unless we make contact with someone or something.  Can’t hear if our ears are covered.  We always smell with every breath. Always. If you cover your nose to stop smelling, you will die. So, yeah, I think using scent in a story is important.

                                      Happy writing



Sep 5 2021, 3:02 pm in , , ,

Let’s talk about VOICE.  Not the TV show. The ‘voice’ that comes through in your story. Your book. And I don’t mean reading it out loud. I mean what YOU bring to the story.

 Ever ask anyone to define voice? Most times I’ve gotten something along the lines of, I can’t tell you what it is exactly but I know it when I see/read it. Or, have you tried to explain voice to a newbie author?

 Okay, so here’s my take on voice.   

 There are many layers of voice in a book.

 First is the author’s voice. It’s how you, the author, tells the story. Ten people can be eye witnesses to an event. Each will give a somewhat different account. It’s according to their world view. The way their experience leads them to see and understand the world.

 Edna St, Vincent Millay said:  A person who publishes a book willfully appears before the populace with their pants down.

 How come? Because in writing we reveal our own world view. How we feel about events going on around us. Not so much the events. A tree falling is a tree falling. But in the telling of the tree falling, you reveal feelings, perceptions and the process of dealing with the event. Your voice.

 We don’t need to be a serial killer to write about one. The emotions and how you deal with them in your story reveals how you feel about serial killers. Your voice.

 Second is the character’s voice. Each character having a distinct voice is important.

 Ernest Hemingway said, “When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people, not characters. A character is a caricature.”

 In order for me to do this I have to know my characters. I take James Scott Bell’s definition of voice to heart. “Character background and language filtered through the author’s heart and rendered with craft on the page =voice.” 

 To find a character’s voice I create a world view for them. Give them values, secrets, fears, misguided beliefs and so on. The characters become real to me. In the long rum each character has a little of the authors voice in them. I don’t see how it is possible to eliminate it.   

 In his book, The Emotional Craft of Fiction: How to Write the Story Beneath the Surface, Donald Maass says emotional craft underlies the creation of character arcs, plot turns, beginnings, midpoints, endings, and strong scenes. It is the basis of voice.

 I do my best to create emotional connections between characters and the reader. Make them feel something. It’s said people will forget what you do, say, and write unless you make them feel when you do, say, and write something.

 When someone says the voice wasn’t strong, I believe what they’re saying is the author failed to make them strongly feel something.

 What do you think?


 My go to books for studying voice are:

  • The Emotional Craft of Fiction: How to Write the Story Beneath the Surface, Donald Maass.
  • Voice by James Scott Bell.
  • Finding Your Voice by Les Edgerton.     

 Since I said we all have our own world views we all more than likely have different views on what voice is. Feel free to share yours and any books you find helpful.    



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