Scents and Sensibility


At a recent writer’s group, someone pointed out (not for the first time) that I don’t use all the senses in my writing. I omit smell. Since this isn’t the first time someone has noticed, I need to make a better effort of including all the senses in my writing. However, smell just isn’t a sense that jumps out at me. There are only a few times a day that I actually process that I’m smelling something, whereas I am constantly aware that I’m seeing or hearing or touching something. I don’t think I have a dulled sense of smell, I just don’t pay it much attention. Is that weird? Probably.

While I was contemplating smell as the ignored red-headed step-child of my senses, I became acutely aware of the use of touch in storytelling. On this blog, I have mentioned The Lizzie Bennet Diaries before. It’s a modernized Pride & Prejudice told through vlogs…and it’s genius. Go watch…and start from the beginning.

Now that you’re back:

Several episodes ago, Lizzie casually touched Darcy’s shoulder as she moved past him. It was not subtle and it sent the Lizzie-sphere a twitter. An episode or so later, Darcy touched back. The comments exploded.

I was trying to be cool, calm and collected, and analyze it: how did it work and why. But really I was fan-girling as much as the commenters. The touches were so simple, so small, but so deliberate (by the writers/actors) and so nonchalant (by the characters), it spoke volumes, harkening back the butterflies of first touches and first crushes everywhere.

Can smell evoke that same response in a story? Really?

What’s your Achilles sense?


6 thoughts on “Scents and Sensibility

  1. yeah, smell commonly gets overlooked. Taste as well. Try and make an exercise out of writing about your next meal using only smells. Then start paying attention to everything you eat. Even keep a little notebook with you and write down the smells you notice throughout the day. It will help you not only to notice the smells around you, but to notice other things as well. Being more observant is the key to better writing, and I find I’m always noticing new things around me which I use later in my stories.

  2. This post makes me wonder if writers might do well to take an acting class or two? I’m very serious – perhaps studying the way actors use mannerisms to portray their characters would be enlightening in re: developing the characters in our writing.
    Loved this post,by the way. No reason…!

  3. Kim

    During art class, one of the mentally challenged adults I teach would carefully sniff each crayon before drawing with it. One day I asked him why. He said, “This is very beautiful and I want to smell beautiful.” Then he handed me his red crayon to smell. To me all crayons smell the same but he enjoyed seeing, touching and smelling the unique beauty of each color. Teaching those guys is always a great lesson to slow down, live in the moment and use all of my senses.

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