In the last post we looked at the role of HEARING when we are trying to capture the attention of our readers. This time we will explore the sense of SMELL –often said to be the most emotive of all the senses.
The following is an excerpt from my biography, The Railway Carriage Child, which I quote because it illustrates how familiar smells can stay with us beyond the moment, beyond childhood, always taking us back to the origin of that first memory.
On Christmas morning, whatever the weather outside, the one bar of the electric fire already glowed, switched on in the bedroom before I woke. I leapt into the middle of my parents’ bed and my pillowcase-sack was dragged onto the foot. One of the clearest memories I have from this time is of the blend of aromas that came from that sack. Before I opened anything I could anticipate the contents just by breathing in.
As I unwrapped bath cubes and talcum powder, there came irony. They were scented to evoke memories of special summer moments in a country garden but, for the whole of my grown-up life, I have stood in such gardens and the image in my mind is of a tin of honeysuckle perfumed talcum powder on a cold Christmas morning.
The second passage is taken from my forthcoming first novel, Goodbye Bluebell.
They reached the door and James pushed it open, half turning to let her go first. He took a step forward without being as careful as he might have been.
On the other side, about to leave and assuming that a gentleman would step aside to let her pass, a young lady of about Isabel’s age, took the full force of the door in her face. Reeling backwards, she teetered for a second on her high heels, then landed squarely on her bottom in a heady cloud of Coco Chanel.
Again this smell lingers in the mind of our character, Isabel, and will come back in a later chapter to let the reader know that this brief meeting was not a one-off.
Other ways in which a smell could be a thread through a story, are: an unpleasant smell that might lead to an unsavory find, a desire to preserve a precious memory where a particular scent played an important role, such as a deceased grandmother’s perfume or an absent father’s aftershave, or the smells that lead us into temptation – perhaps the vegetarian who fights with her conscience as she waits for friends at the hot-dog stall.
We are all familiar with the theory that freshly brewed coffee on viewing day, leads to an increased chance of a house sale, so let’s be aware of how our characters and surroundings are affected by smells and share this with the reader.
The next post will look at TASTE
On another note:
I am excited to tell you that one of my short stories has been chosen for the August Story Chat on Marsha Ingrao’s Always Write blog, which is being hosted this month by Cathy Cade. You can read it at
This is a site where your work can be showcased and readers can comment. This feedback is very helpful and I’m glad to say that all the comments so far have been positive. I would recommend submitting some of your own writing to test out the response.
Great practice for going public.
I am looking forward to reading Goodbye Bluebell, is that the final title or the working title, Wendy?
It’s the title I am planning to use, unless of course inspiration takes me somewhere else, wendy
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A timely reminder. The sense of smell is one I often forget to conjure up when writing.
Yes, we may describe the obvious ones: the characters enter a farmyard or pass the candy floss stall, but how often do we even notice the smells that surround us every day, wendy
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