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



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