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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Scents in #Writing by Sandra Nachlinger

As anyone who has put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) knows, there’s more to writing a book than just the art of telling the story. There’s the craft of writing as well—grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, to name a few items. As writers we’re also advised to use the five senses in our descriptions to better engage our readers. Recently I’ve been paying close attention to how other authors use taste, smell, sound, sight, and touch in their books. One of the most powerful is the sense of smell.

Science has proven that the sense of smell is located in the same area of our brain as memory, creativity, and emotions. We can tap into that connection in writing. For example, if a scene takes place in Grandma’s kitchen, how do we describe it? We may mention a sticky countertop (touch) or a white porcelain sink (sight) but what does the area smell like? Onions? Chocolate chip cookies? Lysol? The odor included by the writer creates a reaction in the reader and can reveal something about the grandma. 

Here are a few examples I’ve found where writers used this powerful sense.

In Katie and The Irish Texan, Cara Copelin writes:
As Dermot slowly came to, the acrid smell of spent gunpowder filled his nostrils. A particularly putrid smell overwhelmed his senses and he realized the dead body of X lay sprawled next to him on the stairs. (X – I’ve omitted the name of the dead man to avoid a spoiler.)
      The scene comes to life when the scents of gunpowder and a putrid dead body are added to the description, doesn’t it?

Caroline Clemmons writes in The Most Unsuitable Courtship:
Blood from the head of her lovely milk cow stained the ground red. The stench of blood mingled with smoke. Why?
      This shocking image is made even more powerful when the stench of blood and acrid smell of smoke are included.

In my contemporary romance, Bluebonnets for Elly, the heroine wakes to familiar morning sounds and scents.
She could almost see Granny lift a steaming kettle of water from the stove, fill the silver teapot, and drop three teabags inside, then cover it with the quilted cozy. The spicy scent of chai tea wafted through the small space, finally rousing Elly from bed.

Have you noticed scents in books you’ve been reading? Do you think they’ve added to the story? Have they evoked memories for you? I’d love to hear what you think. 

Photo of spices by kris krüg from Vancouver, Canada ( [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons


  1. As a reader, I never thought about the smells adding to a story. It definitely does add to the story! Without the sense of smell the story would be sadly lacking. Thank you for writing about it!

    1. Thank you for stopping by. I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

  2. Thanks for including one of my books. I do like to include the five senses, but I always have to go back and add them as I edit. My first draft is mostly dialogue. I'd save time if I could get everything in at once. ☺

    1. It would be great to be able to get everything perfect on the first go-through, wouldn't it?! I found many examples of your use of the senses in The Most Unsuitable Courtship, and that's probably one reason I enjoyed the book so much.

  3. Great post, Sandra. This post hits home for me. Right now I'm writing from a blind heroes view point. He has no sight and has to rely on his other senses. Scent, hearing, and touch are essential to his knowing where he is and who is around him.

    1. That has got to be a challenge! I can't wait to read that story.

  4. That's hero's. Didn't catch the mistake until I hit publish.

  5. Great post. I try to include a scents because smell is the most primitive of all our senses and is a path to memory.


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