Sunday, September 25, 2011

Scent and Your Senses

Last year I bought a tube of different flavored lip-balms for my daughters. There were five in total, so each girl got two and I kept one. The minute I opened that orange chap stick, the scent brought me back 20 some years to fall finals during my freshman year in high school. The sensory memory was sharp. Distinct. I remembered performing a scene from Bitches with my good friend Jessica. I remembered running through the misty rain for the bus, the way my wool skirt that I'd worn as  part of my Bitches costume smelled as it dried. Every little detail, all from the scent of orange chap stick.

Scent is part of how we experience our world and it's something I try not to underplay in my writing. Not all scents deserve to be described, but fresh mowed grass or crisp air after the rain go a long way to adding depth to a spring day. Wood fire smoke, cinnamon, and apple cider helps paint a picture of a cozy autumn night. I tend to overuse the scent of leather and brandy when describing a man. When I write a garden scene, I research what plants grew in that part England 500 years ago, when they were in season, and what time of day their perfume was at its strongest.

Scents can also tell the emotional story or help with character development. Regardless of the food itself, when a meal is a positive experience for the character, the courses smell delicious,  full of sweet and savory spices that make the mouth water. When a negative experience, the sickly sweet scents can turn the stomach, the mixture of odors might assault the senses. In a love scene, the leading man might be smell musky, masculine whereas the villain would be rank, his body odor foul. Use of scent does not just flesh out the environment, it can tell the story.

Do you pay attention to scent while setting your scene?


Stacy McKitrick said...

Scents, as well as descriptions, emotions, and reactions are usually added during my edits. All that stuff slows down my writing, and when I just want to get the story on paper, I try not to dwell. That's not to say I don't add it during the first draft. When the scene is so vivid in my mind, it can get mentioned, but certainly not in any detail. Just enough to refresh my mind during the edit.

But I agree, it's important to use all the senses in your writing. Using sight and hearing aren't enough. Touch, scents, and tastes can add so much to your scene.

Stephanie Thornton said...

Man, I remember Lip Smackers--I had a whole collection!

I do pay attention to smells when I'm writing, but recently the smells have been less pleasant than your basic garden variety. Good thing I don't have to smell them as I write!

Jen said...

The sense of smell is an important component in my writing as well.

Entire stories are pent up inside the petals of a rose, the pluck of a mint leaf from the ground, fresh brewed coffee in the early morning.

I've never thought of describing my villain's scent. An interesting idea!

Thanks for the comment on my blog the other day!


Jennifer Hillier said...

I use scent a lot in my writing. Smell affects me strongly, and I want my stories to have that same effect.

And I remember that Orange Crush chap stick! Didn't they also have Root Beer? What a blast from the past. :)

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