Guest post by Rita Henuber
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 deliver emotions in our writing.
Using smell effectively is not as easy as using other senses. We provide details, mapping out other senses. When we see something, we can be descriptive 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 everything tastes like. 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. As with the name of this blog, Orange Blossom. The very words conjure heavenly scents drifting for miles in spring to those native to Florida. To convey the scent, I can’t gift a reader with a bottle of orange blossom perfume. I use words such as smoky, floral, fruity, sweet, we are describing smells in terms of other things (smoke, flowers, fruit, sugar).
Describe how smells make us feel—disgusting, intoxicating, sickening, pleasurable, delightful hypnotic— use of word pictures 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/your 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. Women were given men’s sweaty, stinky t-shirts and asked which they liked best. I dunno, maybe it was an early Bachelorette show. Anyhow, they found their brothers and fathers shirts to be the worst smelling.
When you use the sense description make it applicable to the character. A truck driver 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 in 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 nods to the horrors of war that the character faces, and the way it’s warped Kilgore.
If 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 eyes 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.
What do you think?