Touch, taste, sight, sound, and smell. These are our five senses… and what we have to work with in our writing. If we use these enough, we can truly transport a reader into the world we are trying to create.
Do I have this down? With a great big grin, I acknowledge that I probably do not. …thus I will use my friend, Leah, as an example for the sense of smell. It was in fact, she, that pointed out to me how much she thought the sense of smell, in particular, made a scene truly come to life.
Leah is one of those rare and beautiful friends that you have the privilege of making later in life once you’re already married and have kids. The kind of friend that you’re not friends with because your kids get along, but because you get along. And when you get together, you forget to even talk about your kids (other than to tell them to “shush” when they interrupt) because you have everything else in the world to talk about.
One of the things we talk about is writing. She has read many of my chapters before anyone else has, and has helped me hash out several plot problems along the way. In fact, the only reason Daisy is still alive in book 2 of my series is because of her. 😉 I had never intended for Daisy to become such a rounded character, but like a true flower, she has managed to push up through the flatness of her creation and become someone quiet beloved. Everyone seems to love Daisy (myself include). So when you read book 2 and think to leave me a review, remember to add a “thank you, Leah.” That would be fun 🙂
I can tell I’m getting off track, so allow me to make my way back to the subject of senses. I found out, through discussions of my own writing, that Leah enjoys writing as well. She finally worked up the courage to let me read the story she’d been working on, and one of the things that I enjoy the most about her writing, is the sense of being in the same room as her characters. How does she accomplish this? Well, like any writer, you use the five senses to propel the readers forward, but she was thinking that none might be more important in doing this than the sense of smell, and I can’t help but agree. Now don’t quote us on this… it’s simply the opinion of two amateurs, but stay with me for a minute as we explore this idea a bit.
Here are two excerpts from the beginning of her story: (first excerpt opens with a little boy crawling into bed with his mom in the wee hours of the morning. He says that he needs to get some bad guys in the kitchen. Second excerpt is pretty self-explanatory.)
“Okay, baby. Go get ‘em.” She said through a yawn.
“I can’t.” Mason shifted his position to sit a little higher on her back and leaned over until his face was about 3 inches from hers.
“I can’t find my sword.” He was just getting over a cold and his breath still had that thick, germy smell that kids get when they’re sick.
Julia buried her face in the pillow. “Did you look in your toy box?” Her voice came through muffled.
“Ma’am,” the male officer said quietly, “Is your husband Nathaniel Henderson?” His eye contact was unnerving.
Julia couldn’t speak. Panic was pulling at every muscle in her body. She nodded her head, one quick movement. The smell of the sweet lavender candle she had bought last week mingled with the potato salad and threatened to make her sick.
“Mrs. Henderson, I’m afraid we have to inform you that your husband was in an accident this evening.”
I think it’s entirely possible to just leave the portions of smell out… but would you have really felt like you were there if you did? The moment she mentioned smelly kid breath, I was in the moment wrinkling my nose at what was probably just that morning for myself. I always seem to wake up with at least one of my four kids in bed with us (they’re getting pretty stealthy at it).
When Julia walked into her kitchen and smelled potato salad and lavender, I wasn’t just in her kitchen, I was in my own getting ready to go to a friend’s house for dinner and bringing my contribution of food to the mix. In this case, Julia was detained from going due to the police officers as they pulled up to her house.
Here’s a quick experiment. Yesterday, I finally broke away from the house and went to visit my sweet friend, Sarah, who invited us to go swimming. Another mutual friend was there from out of town (love seeing her), and we had 13 children between the three of us, ranging from ages 10 to 2 months old. After the kids had, had their fill of the pool and moved onto the grass for some different water fun, the three of us moms stayed in the pool for a few moments of blessed quiet (no splashing, no screaming, no half choking incidents from swallowing too much water). So here’s the sentence:
I floated, with my arms suspended.
Let’s add touch and sight: I floated there in the cool water, enjoying the heat of the summer sun on my face and the way my arms felt, lazily suspended over my daughters plastic lined puddle jumper.
Let’s add taste: My tongue still held the sweet and sour sensation of ice cold lemonade, as I floated there in the cool water, enjoying the heat of the summer sun on my face and the way my arms felt, lazily suspended over my daughters plastic lined puddle jumper.
Let’s add sound: My tongue still held the sweet and sour sensation of ice cold lemonade, as I floated there in the cool water, chuckling at the sounds of bickering children as I enjoying the heat of the summer sun on my face and the way my arms felt, lazily suspended over my daughters plastic lined puddle jumper.
We have a lot here, but let’s add smell now: My tongue still held the sweet and sour sensation of ice cold lemonade, as I floated there in the cool water, chuckling at the sounds of bickering children as I enjoying the heat of the summer sun on my face, the pervasive scents of sunscreen and too much chlorine and the way my arms felt, lazily suspended over my daughters plastic lined puddle jumper.
Vwala! An overly wordy run-on sentence! 😉 But length and wordiness was not the point of this experiment. So what do you think? Do you feel like the first four senses were perfectly adequate? Or do you think there was something gained by the sense of smell, in particular?
Of course, not all senses are required for every sentence. More likely you’ll see them spread out over a series of sentences as the scene is set up. Perhaps not all of them will be used, and perhaps they will. What is the most important to you? Which one put you in the moment?
As an after thought to this blog, I did a little digging in google. Here
is a short little essay I found on the sense of smell… and Here
a blog on the subject of smell and writing, titled Come to your senses: The art of using the sense of smell in romantic writing.
P.S. Sorry everything is so squishy… not allowing me to double space about half way through.