Earlier this week, I posted an entry about using sound (particularly onomatopoeia) in your writing to help the reader more fully connect with your work. Now it’s time to talk about smell. I guess this means I’m writing a freakin’ series now, doesn’t it?
I previously talked about sound being neglected in writing, but I think smell is even more so. Considering that smell is the sense most strongly linked to memory, this is a huge missed opportunity for writers.
So how do we describe smell?
Don’t be too general. If something has an unpleasant odor, don’t tell me it “stinks.” Describe to me why it stinks. Use concrete adjectives and figurative language. By concrete adjectives, I mean words like sweet, sour, and so on. Ex: Cutting open the grapefruit immediately released a rush of sweet, tangy odors, and a citrusy tinge that made my eyes water. Figurative language often includes the use of simile and metaphor to describe how something smells. Many a restaurant trash dumpster, for instance, smells overwhelmingly like soured milk. (I’ve worked in my share of restaurants.)
Figurative language doesn’t have to describe the smell so literally, as I’ve done with my dumpster example. It is, after all, figurative language. Ex: Lemonade smells like the summer evenings of my youth, sitting on my grandfather’s porch and watching the sun disappear behind the distant cotton fields.
If you don’t have space to describe it further (i.e. you’re writing a poem in a particular form), at least use a stronger adjective. If it smells really bad, “reek” is often a better choice than “stinks.”
In my post about sound, I suggested sitting somewhere with your eyes closed for a few minutes then writing about the sounds you heard. A similar exercise may be beneficial with smell.
Well, I’ve got to get back to watching the kids, so smell ya later!