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Whenever writers describe a scene, we tend to forget one important factor. I know I do. I have trouble describing this one element that has a greater sense of nostalgia and connection than any others.

What am I referring to? It’s the sense of smell. How often do we incorporate odors and aromas into our writing? Not as much as we should. Yet, it’s the one element, in real life, with which we make the best connection. Think about it.

Have you ever smelled a certain lotion, and your mind immediately placed you back to where you first experienced that scent? I know I have. Some places that I’ve landed have been locations of pain, while others of these momentary paradises I didn’t ever want to leave.

What about the smell of old sweat and wine? Ever smelled that before? Awful, huh? Well to most people it is. Think about other smells, and I’m not talking about the common ones like the smell of roses and violets.

But we smell aromas all the time. In fact, there are some scents that we would refer to as aromas, and there are others that we would consider to be odors. What about the smell of cold, rusted metal? That’s a common smell. Or what about the smell of dirt or grass even.

How can you weave these scents into your story like an experienced tailor? I’m not saying that we should have smells at every scene introduction, but I do think that it’s important to incorporate scents whenever possible.

Consider this. If we want the reader to know exactly what our character is thinking, then intertwining scents into the story will make a substantial difference. One thing to remember is that whenever smells are normal, we don’t notice them. But, whenever a scent is more unique than all the others that we’ve been smelling for the past few days, that aroma stays with us.

I can remember the time when I poured cologne on myself by mistake when I was a kid. I tried to wash it out, but alas, I couldn’t. I remember that smell like it happened to me recently, and I am sure that it was over 20 years ago.

Use scents to grab your reader by the collar and shake him, saying, “Pay attention! Don’t you dare go to sleep on me!”

The key to your reader’s heart is through his nostrils. Turn gently, and that door may open. Take care, and I look forward to you stopping by tomorrow!

7 thoughts on “I SMELL DEAD PEOPLE

  1. journeyofjordannaeast

    I was just thinking about this the other day as I wrote how a character remembered the sweet smell of pears in a pretty girl’s wake. I really liked the sentence and made a conscious effort to incorporate more olfactory cues throughout my writing. Timely post!

    1. William Stadler Post author

      Pretty impressive! And it’s those kinds of cues that really make for a more engaging story. Most people know what pears smell like, and adding that nostalgia factor really helps to generate the emotion.

      Thanks for sharing!

  2. mariathermann

    Great post. I love introducing the sense of smell into my stories, it really sets the scene and with just a few words we know our reader will experience all that we wanted him/her to experience…far better than giving a lengthy description of what a place looks like. Also works great with people, when we try to describe them in not too many words. “His sour breath insulted Marlena’s nostrils and she had to stop herself from retching” is so much better than giving a description of the guy being a drunk and in rather a bad shape after throwing up.

    1. William Stadler Post author

      Maria, that so true. And I like your description there. It becomes sickly vivid when it’s described that way. Thanks for your insight!

    1. William Stadler Post author

      Yeah I know what you mean. It’s the sense that we don’t think about even we use it all the time.


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