The Sense of Smell

What about how things smell? Do you put scents in your books?

How things smell is another important factor to convey to your readers. When I was a child I noticed that people's homes smelled different than my own. Often it was the cooking smells I noticed. Mexican food wasn't nearly as popular as it is today. Most of us didn't eat out much and if we did it was at a small diner where the food offering was much like mom cooked at home. (I'm talking about the years during World War II.) I remember visiting a Mexican friend's home and when I walked in I was bombarded with what to me then were exotic cooking scents. The first tacos I ever ate one of my aunties made and I recognized the scents that went along with some of what I'd smelled at my friend's house.

Remember the overpowering and almost sickening scent of flowers in a funeral home? The first time I noticed this was at a funeral service at one of the little chapels at Forest Lawn.

The smell of a dead body that's been undiscovered for awhile is horrific. I haven't ever come across a human dead body like that, but I have dead animals, and the smell is bad.

What about a woman (and sometimes a man) who has doused themselves with far too much perfume?

The smell of sweat and perhaps dirt or grease or oil from a man who has just come inside from working in the fields or on a car?

Someone lighting a cigarette. For years after I quit smoking, I could smell that first whiff of burning tobacco a mile away. (Exaggeration, of course, but it was definitely something I noticed.) How about the stale stench of cigarette smoke on someone's clothing? Or the acrid odor of alcohol that seems to seep out of the pours of an alchoholic?

The wonderful scent of a baby's skin--and maybe the need of the infant's diaper to be changed.

I could go on and on. Adding the smells your hero or heroine encounter can add depth to your writing and bring your reader right onto the scene.

Books by Marilyn


C. N. Nevets said…
I'm big on this one, but I usually find when I go back to reread that I haven't done quite as much with it as I think I have. I usually end up having to add it as a later detail.
Thanks for this reminder on smell. Yesterday, I referenced it with "After parking my ’98 Dodge Avenger out back near the loading docks, I took the wig from the console and pulled it down snug over my head, relishing the faint scent lingering on the natural hair."
Cheryl said…
That reminds me that one of your Rocky Bluff P.D. books is titled Smell of Death. I like how you add scents into your books.

I have a scene where one of my characters is entering the food court of a mall and the scents of fried foods and baked goods from the bakery are mentioned.
I think smells add a lot to a book, and it's a means of really letting your reader be a part of the scene.

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