Did you smell that?

My one weakness when setting a scene is forgetting to write in smell. Or if I do it’s hasty and obvious. Like. ‘He smelled pie.’  or  ‘She smelled wet dog.’

That’s what revision’s for.

However when I read a book and the described smells appear too often, over done or frankly unimaginable, I squint at the pages and no longer can I smell them in my mind.

Without:
Sasha made her way through the busy open-air market to buy the ingredients needed for dinner and desert. She wanted to impress. She stopped in her tracks on the busy sidewalk upon seeing the ripe peaches. Her plan was to make chocolate cake. She couldn’t resist the fresh peaches and bought the basket of them. Cobbler would be better than cake.

With:
The aroma of fresh baked breads, pies, herbs and meats of various types being cooked wafted up to greet her. Sasha loved the open-air market in the morning. She made her way through the bustling sidewalk purchasing the ingredients she needed for dinner and dessert. She stopped in her tracks on beside a busy stall as the sweet scent of sun warmed ripe peaches hit her nose. She planned to make chocolate cake, that idea faded as she picked up the fuzzy red and orange fruit and held it to her nose. With her mouth-watering, she bought a basket. Her grandma’s cobbler would impress better than cake.

I do this all the time, write a scene and forget to make it appeal to the imaginary senses. It usually means I was hasty and to make it right it will add words.

Without:
Tanya walked across the lawn in her bare feet. The feeling of the long cool grass soothing her tired battered soul. It had been a long day of nothing going right. She stepped to the sidewalk, reached into the mailbox and took out the stack of junk mail and bills. With a sigh, she turned and set her foot down in the still warm dog poo.
“You have got to be fu.” She bit her tongue as a mother and toddler in as stroller went by.

With:
Tanya walked barefoot across the lawn. The long cool grass soothed her tired battered soul. It had been a long day of nothing going right. She stepped across the sun-warm sidewalk, reached into the mailbox and removed the junk mail and bills. With a sigh, she turned to go back and set her foot down in a pile of still warm dog poo hidden in the grass. The pungent foul odor hitting her nostrils as it squished up between her toes.
“You have got to be fu.” She bit her tongue as a mother and toddler in as stroller went by.

It’s not much, but it’s enough to engage my memory of smell. Everyone knows what things smell like so there is no point dragging out the description of the scent, a vague or short direct reference is enough.

My advice about sniffing out smells.
People don’t smell things constantly every moment of every day and remark on them mentally or verbally. The unpleasant smell of rotting fish will cause a nose to wrinkle, fresh cut onions may bring tears to the eye. Make the character experiences it and therefore the reader. A smell is a great way to set the scene, evoke an emotion or liven up a dull paragraph/scene.

-Sheryl

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13 thoughts on “Did you smell that?

  1. I believe you have to take your character into account. Some people just use their sense of smell as an early warning system and ignore the world of smells. Some people live by their nose. You’re correct, though, that too much of a good thing just slows everything down. So, character-driven, context-driven, does it help enrich where you’re going or bog you down? Kind regards, MSOC

    Liked by 1 person

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