Saturday, April 12, 2014

Sunday Musings: April 13 2014

Chris Steeves-Speakman here again and I’m smelling – green!  No, not the colour of money, but that living scent which is fighting its way up and out of the frozen ground. The smell of life. The smell of new beginnings. The smell of Spring.

Can you guess what our Muse Family is musing about today? You got it…

We've talked about humour in our writing. Let's visit one of our senses this week...

How do important…is it to use the sense of smell in writing?


I think it's important to use as many senses as possible, and it's honestly something I'm always reminding myself as I write.  In School of Deaths, there is an ongoing theme of a strawberry smell.  Strawberries are my favorite fruit, so I tied the theme into the novel, and by the end the smell is actually crucial to the plot.  For every reader who claims to prefer movies, I remind them that a movie is purely visual and auditory, no smells, tastes, or touches- so only 40% of our senses actually engaged. 

Smell?  It doesn't really play a large part in my books.  I mention the smells of different kinds of food, the fresh, heady scent of an ocean, the less pleasant odor of a swamp.  That is about the extent of my using this particular sense.

I think smell is extremely important for the environment of the story. For me a place announces itself with it's odors. I have been spending a lot of time in hospitals and they have a distinct odor. Though this has changed over the years you always know when it is time to eat by the aromas. Also there is a medicinal smell. In my first novel, If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor, Carolyn, the main character tells us how the hallways smell of "fresh paint and floor wax. Combined with the perfume and aftershave worn by everyone, the smell almost suffocates me". By using smell here it puts the reader in that high school hallway. You can't write about anything without the sense of smell. I think it brings immediate awareness of the scene and readers can go back to their own life experiences and gain more meaning through it.

I like to include scent when setting a scene. I believe it adds a lot to the ambience. But I do have to remind myself to include it.


I totally believe in using all the senses in my writing.  When I taught first grade, I had units on using all the senses in their writing.  Now that I’m writing my own stories?  I follow my own advice!

I once, for a scene on burnt hair, actually did burn some to get the correct scent.  I’ve also used real Egyptian incense from Egypt(my sister is married to an Egyptian national and is studying to be an Egyptologist) to get the real feel of what an Egyptian goddess might smell like.  My sister also got me some of the incense that was used in actual mummification process during ancient times.

For my current project, I’ve been hitting Parisian bakeries to not only taste the pastries but to smell them too!

I’m a sucker for experiencing different scents.  I’ve been known to go out of my way to experience certain smells and hope that I can convey that to my readers. 

JAMI GRAY, author

When I worked on my third book in my Urban Fantasy series, smell played an integral part in the story, especially since my main characters were shifters. The challenge for me was to find unique combinations to evoke familiar emotions--chocolate and cinnamon for comfort, burnt plastic for simmering anger.

I'm a firm believer that the more of our senses a writer can weave into their story, the more "real" it will become to our readers, because scents help a reader submerse themselves in a scene.
 "...alkaline scent of stale urine mixed with rancid trash, seasoned with a hint of kerosene drifted from the brown bottles littering the alley."

Anyone else fighting the urge to wrinkle their nose at this point?

Even if your characters don't have an enhanced sense of smell, it will still enhance your scene and give your reader a "scent visual", For example, if you read "the rich, decadence of warm chocolate chip cookies", I bet your next stop is your kitchen or a bakery.

I've heard the "strongest" of our senses is that of smell.  One whiff of a stray arouma can transport us across time and space.  When I smell Ponds Cold Cream I am instantly back in my childhood watching  my mother take off her makeup for the day.  I associate the smell of Ponds and the smell of face powder with her and wish I could give her a hug.  Of course, my mom has been gone for years.

And who, when they smell either cotton candy or cinnamon buns does not think of a carnival, circus,  or a fair?

As powerful as the sense of smell can be, I am afraid I do not use it in my writing nearly as much as I could/should.  I will have to start being more aware of where and when the sense of smell can enrich my stories.

I always use the sense of smell because I find it very evocative myself. Any Scot of a certain age will recognise 'the smell of an SMT bus'. Walking round a transport museum, transports me to the 50s and being agonisingly sick whenever the family travelled anywhere.
The smell of kippers, however, is a happier memory. Combined with woodsmoke and sweet peas it takes me to the large dining-room of a big house my husband and I visited regularly while courting.
I try to have my characters carry their personal scent which their other half will recognise with eyes shut: lavender, lemon, horse muck, tobacco, sandalwood - I write Regency type historical romance. Also, I like to use oddities I've noticed such as the way new cotton garments smell of tobacco or the way one's breath may indicate an illness such as diabetes. Couldn't write without it.

A whiff of Chanel Number Five and I'm a child again. One night, on her way out for the evening, my mother hugged me tight. Whenever I felt lonely, I held my hands over my nose and the scent of her perfume comforted me. The smell of roses remind me of my grandmother. A whiff of tobacco makes me think of my grandfather, rolling his own cigarettes. I could go on and on, but you get the picture. The sense of smell stirs up our memories. I think it's a great tool for writers to use to evoke emotion in our readers.

DAWN KNOX, author

The description or mention of a smell can be an important way of evoking emotions and adding to the vividness of a scene. Used more subtly, smells can hint at something, without being explicit - probably the ultimate 'Show, don't tell.' With the advances in technology and Virtual Reality, I wonder how long it might be before e-books come equipped with built in smell, sound, touch and taste facilities. I can't make up my mind if that will be progress!

Dear reader, thank you again for joining us and we’d love to hear from you. Keep smiling and have a fun week. See you next Sunday…nothing better than being cozy in bed with some Musings.

If you have a question or comment you’d like us to muse upon, do not hesitate to contact me Christine Steeves-Speakman  at


anne stenhouse said...

Hi Fellow Musers, Chris, this is a good selection. I really rely on smell a lot and hate having a heavy cold. Anne Stenhouse

Marie Laval said...

Smells and fragrances are so important, in real life and in books. Scents can take us back to happy or sad times and to our childhood, or help bring a loved one back to like, if only for a few seconds. Houses, people,seasons have their own scents. Even cleaning products can work their own magic! The other day at work a cleaning lady was wiping the staff room tables with a lemony product. The smell brought me straight back home, in France. I stood in the middle of the staffroom and breathed deeply for a few seconds. The cleaner must have thought I was crazy!