The power of smells in writing.

This is my fourth post on the five senses and today is about the sense of smell.IMG_5420
There is a link between the sense of smell and memory and yet it is often dismissed and forgotten about since most stories are ruled by the visual sense.

So far in this post series I have covered sight, hearing and touch but for now let’s move on to smell.
Do you use the sense of smell in your writing a lot? Do you sometimes struggle finding the right words?
George William Septimus Piesse a perfumer created the odaphone which is a sent scale that classifies smells by taking an approach similar to music.
The idea is that there are three different sorts of smells. Top smells, middle smells and bass smells.
Top smells are the scents you smell first. They are the sharp and fresh smells.
Examples of top smells are
• Basil.
• Citronella.
• Lemon.
• Lemongrass.
• Lime,
• Orange.
• Peppermint.
• Spearmint.

The middle smells are generally floral, herbal and spicy. You can normally smell these once the top smells have faded a little. The smell of these tends to last a little longer.
Examples of middle smells are
• Black pepper.
• Chamomile.
• Cinnamon.
• Lavender.
• Nutmeg.
• Rose.
• Tobacco.
The bass smells are rich heavy and thick. They are warming and usually woods and spices.
Examples o bass smells are
• Beeswax
• Cedar wood.
• Ginger.
• Sandalwood.
• Vanilla.

Now I am still sort of experimenting with this sense and theory so I can’t tell you for example where smell of cooking bacon falls but I hope this is useful anyway.
Writing exercise.
What smell fits with what season?
Make a list of the different smells that remind you of each season.

“Nothing revives the past so completely as the smell that was once associated with it.” – Vladimir Nabokov.
The sense of smell is the most accurate sense. People can remember with a %65 accuracy after a year what something smelled like while they can only remember with %50 accuracy what they saw.
This means that the sense of smell can be a really helpful tool when it comes to bringing a scene to life since just the mention of a smell can bring back both good and bad memories to a reader, and give them the feel of the scene.
The smell of vanilla wafted through the air. Nava sat down on the plush couch just as the old woman came in carrying two coffee cups. She handed one to Nava and found her own chair. She could smell the coffee was strong and the smell of it washed away her worries. Nava sat back and took a sip of the brew.
The smell of smoke burned Nava’s nose and she put her sleeve over her nose. She stared in horror at the pot sprouting flames on the stove.
As she neared she grabbed a dish cloth and used it to pick up the hot pot. The smell was worse up close. As the smell of burning sugar rose into the air around her Nava just barely kept herself from gagging. She tossed the entire pot into the sink and turned open the tap. As steam filled the little kitchen she sighed.
So much for making toffee.
As you can hopefully see by my two examples the sense of smell does not only bring back a certain feeling but also a place.
Different places smell differently and their sent can be an important part of how you describe them.

Writing exercise.
Write down a list of smells you would expect to find in each of the following places.
• A perfume shop.
• A fish shop.
• A cheese shop.
• A coffee shop.
• A flower shop.
• A bread shop.
Now pick one of these places and write a scene that takes place between a customer and an employee using High smells, Medium smell and bass smells.
This scene could be something like an employee trying to sell the customer cheese or the customer complaining about the scent of a specific flower.

The sense of smell can’t be written like the other four senses.
There are no words for specific smells.
Sure you get words such as smoky or citrus but if you want to say that the smelled like strawberries you will have to use those exact words. You would have to use comparison.
When describing sounds we can say there was a shrill whistle or you would say the dog barked. We don’t have these sorts of words for smell so we use comparison.
I hope you found this helpful and whether you do or don’t let me know.
How important do you think the sense of smell is in writing? How often do you use it? Where on the odaphone do you think the smell of bacon falls?

5 thoughts on “The power of smells in writing.

  1. My favourite time of the year is Christmas because of the smell of fire mixed with mulled wine and pine trees.
    I am currently writing a Christmas story and in every chapter have tapped in heavily to the sense of smell as I believe it is the sense children can most relate to. I have described the smell of reindeer poop, the smell of hot chocolate and even the smell of husky breath.
    I love your blog and would 100% say smell is very important in stories, especially for the younger reader. Typically, a younger person does not hold as many memories through sight as they still have a lot to see. They also have not yet learnt to appreciate taste. This is why in my stories for a younger age I rely heavily on the sense of smell because that is something children can relate to.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I think senses are always dependent upon age. For example, people with dementia could hear a car alarm and it would make them believe an air siren was going off. I love writing. One day I would love to be published. I finally have a very rough draft, just need to keep checking and re-checking, and then maybe one day, I could have my own book!

        Liked by 1 person

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