Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Come to your Senses

To me, being in a wild world with so many sights, sounds, odors, tastes and textures is a little like walking down dusty paths of a renaissance festival and being bombarded with the scent of apple dumplings and roasted turkey legs while my ears buzz with pan flutes and tambourines, all as I’m touching velvety lamb’s ears and then hard, exotic handcrafted jewelry. But there is more. Yes, taste, we must include that. How about fresh corn crepes smothered in cream and then chocolate doused strawberries for dessert?

Oh, enough, enough! I’m ready for a festival, how about you? Yeah, I know. It’s still too cold. Until then, I’ll attempt to warm up our rich creamy layers of writing. Each post will focus on a different sense and I might even bring in that rowdy SIXTH SENSE to round everything up. Okay lords and ladies, let’s begin with scent, shall we?

What is that smell?

What springs to mind here are Sunday suppers, pork loin dotted with rosemary, the scent of raisins and stuffing and spice exploding each time the oven door opens.

Aroma’s, rather delightful or not, invoke memories.

If you have a keen sniffer, you might also be able to detect a storm before it arrives. The earth is different then, soil sighing and humidity yelling. Did you know moisture heightens our sense of smell? It does. And were you aware women have a keener sense of smell? They do. As we age, our sense of smell weakens, though. Middle age is peek smelling season. I vote we all stay middle aged. Oh, wait, too late for me.

Did you ever notice that houses have layers of odors? I remember an old farmhouse we lived in, which smelled of plants, laundry detergent, and an undercurrent of all previous owners combined. It’s as though scent embeds itself into walls and floors.

In developing characters and their environments, we can see how smell could be a vivid way to make a story breathe. If we are writing about a house full of men, scents will be different. I’m telling you,I know these things. I have brothers. The masculinity, shall we say, does shout smoke, spice and sweat.

On the other side of the road, where mostly females reside, you’ll find the staggering scents of cinnamon, lavender oil, powder, perfume and candles. Of course there will be fruity odors mixed in and funky, too, depending on whether they keep a clean house and if they cook.

So, if we want our characters to live and remember that they have lived, scent is one worthy tool. It is exactly why, when I smell baby powder, I can be yanked back to a morning, fifteen years ago, baby on my lap. She has just finished her oatmeal and given me an open-mouthed kiss on the cheek, leaving a smear. There is sticky oatmeal in my hair, too, left from chubby fingers grabbing to draw me close. I can still hear her coo at the birds, so early my eyes are barely slit open, but yet I’m chattering to her and overwhelmed with tenderness. Yes, baby powder can snap me back that fast.

Our world is one big, smelly memory.

This week I’m taking my basket of scent and sprinkling it throughout my work. How about you? What particular scent fires up your memory?


  1. Good question! Whenever I smell freshly cut wood, I immediately think of my Dad, who is a master carver and carpenter. (His little shop always smells of wood, stain and varnish.) As a little girl, I learned how to hammer nails at his side. As an adult, I'm just beginning to learn to carve now. But the wood smell is strong and brings back many lovely times spent with my Dad. Even if I was just hanging out while he made stuff.

  2. wood smoke...

    i enjoy your tidbits on writing. i think that many miss or do a poor job engaging all of them in their writing, myself included.

  3. There's a fruit called guyava. It is pear shaped and has lots of vitamin C. The special thing about it is its smell. To some it smells like perfume (to me, for instance), to others it smells like stink and they don't allow it in the house.

    Anyway, I like to eat and smell guyavos,but less than in adolescence when it was "the forbidden fruit" , at home, because of its smell.

  4. The first scent that popped to mind when you mentioned the men's side of the road was the dirty work sock smell. You know the one I mean...I know you do.

    My faves are vanilla and warm and spicy. And a really good orange or lemon, freshly sliced so you can smell the sweet fruit and just a hint of tangy zest. And wood smoke in the fall against the backdrop of Halloween...

    Oh, and...

    Great post, Dorraine. I'll be thinking about this for hours. Can't wait for the next one.

  5. Ah, I enjoy the smell of wood, too, especially freshly cut cedar. Thanks for sharing your memory, Stacy. It's a sweet one.

  6. Wood smoke reminds me of many nights camping, the fire crackling. Then inside the tent, everyone smelling like the fire and smoke and forest. Great pick.

    Thanks, Brian. I needed this reminder too. Sometimes we all forget what's right at our fingertips.

  7. I've never had a guyava, Duta. Maybe I will google it to see what one looks like, then attempt to find some in the grocery store. I'll get back to you on that. :-)

  8. Ewww, dirty work socks! Having a sensitive nose can sometimes be a gift and sometimes not.

    Right now though, I'm smelling that freshly sliced lemon and orange you described, Ronda. Oh, and the vanilla!

  9. Oh, I loved the house! Briefly, of course, wouldn't like to live in it!

  10. Oh, I know, Dave. Me, too! It does make me wonder who built it and what the family was like who lived there.

  11. Where did my comment go? I'm sure I commented...

    Oh well. I'll just comment again.

    I love describing scents in writing. It's not easy, one has to be very creative, but the use of this sense can invoke so many thoughts and emotions in the reader. It's one of the most potent senses.

    And you made me hungry, by the way, Dorraine. Doh!


  12. Oh, sorry you had to post again, Jai, but glad you did. The sense of smell is potent indeed. I'm not going to like growing older if it involves losing some of that. Oh, well. No choice in the matter.

    Um, sorry about the turkey legs and chocolate dipped strawberries. Aren't you happy I didn't post a picture???