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Writing Tip — Writing with Senses

womanw-546103_1280Cyle Young’s article on how to write using the sense of smell has a great exercise to practice this type of description.

Writing about smell might be the most difficult sense for me. I think that’s because, first, I have a very dull sense of smell. I’m sure a skunk could spray at my feet, and I ‘d only notice a slight change in the surrounding air. My youngest has a terrific sense of smell and lets me know with questions like “How come your car smells so bad, Mom?”

A second reason for my difficulty is that, as abundant as the English language is, we don’t have a lot of words to choose from that concern only smells. We have to describe it in other terms, like the physical reaction to a smell.

Mr. Young points out no sense can stir memories like smell. A smell can be a very natural and meaningful way to start a flashback because everyone has had this experience. When I smell onions cooking, no matter where, I grow very nostalgic because it reminds me of my grandmother’s house. The combination of sunscreen and bug spray immediately reminds me of marching band camp.

I am going to revisit my novel The Truth and Other Strangers and review how I have used the sense of smell in it. Here are some settings and other characteristics of my novel where I could use it:

  1. Mountains — My novel is set in the eastern mountains of West Virginia in July. The rhododendrons bloom in that month but don’t have much of a smell. I could use that, such as, “Funny, how something so pretty had no delicate scent to partner it.” Since my main character Junior loves being in the mountains, I would select only pleasant smells to support his feelings.
  2. Food — Because Junior’s family is poor, he often is hungry. So the odors of food means more to him than to well-fed characters. He has recently lost the aunt who raised him, so I could use a smell to bring back memories of her and underline how much he misses her.
  3. Vehicles — To me, vehicles have their own peculiar smells. Junior’s family has nine kids and owns a very old, battered van. All kinds of smells could be trapped in its abused interior.
  4. Bar — Junior visits a notoriously rough bar twice. Describing only bothersome smells, like cigarette smoke and alcohol, would show how uncomfortable Junior is in this setting.
The Absence of Smell

The lack of smell can also be used dramatically. If your characters are animals and lose their sense of smell, that would be traumatic. In a work of speculative fiction, an object’s or area’s lack of smell could be a signal to the characters that something is horribly wrong.

How do you use the sense of smell in your writing?

Writing Tip — Evoking More Sight

eye-2357104_1280In my own writing, I often use color to describe characters. I have a lot of characters, and color is one way I can help readers keep them straight

In my novel The Truth and Other Strangers, I have several characters with brown eyes. To differentiate, I call some “hazel”, some “dark brown”, and some “almost black”. My main character Junior uses more precise colors for family members because he notices the subtle differences in their eye color.

On the other hand, when Junior runs into members of the Kimmel family, a family of crooks he doesn’t know well, he sees that many of them have pale-colored eyes, but he has never been close enough to discern the exact color.

At the end of my book, the head of the Kimmel family gets in Junior’s face to threaten him. Now Junior can see all too clearly that the man has light green eyes. I use Junior’s ability to discern the color to underline how uncomfortably close he is to  the man threatening him.

Junior has a five-year-old sister Angel who has a medical condition called synthesia, an extra connection between senses. One of the most common forms is seeing a color specific to a number or letter when reading. Angel sees people in color. She sees an uncle as chocolate brown. This kind of synthesia is sometimes called seeing “auras”. I use the condition to enhance Angel’s otherworldly personality and to comment on characters’ personalities. Such as she see the sheriff who is threatening her family as puke green.

I need to work on studying scenes to mine them for their colors. In summer, nature wears green, but just describing a setting as green doesn’t begin to touch on all the variations of green that exist in summer. Like I said in the prompt on Monday, I should take time to really study a scene, either in person or in my head.

Monday Sparks — Writing prompts

img_20160817_0004Following on the advice Mr. Young gave in his post on Almost an Author, go somewhere, inside or out, and study it for a full minute. If you are like me, it might take you awhile to clear your mind of all competing thoughts, but keep focusing until you can study a scene for a full minute with full concentration. Then take notes on what you see. Don’t try to write full sentences. Just write down your impressions as accurately you can. You can even make up words if that helps you capture the scene.

Once you think you have observed all you can, you can use your notes later to flesh out a properly written scene. Your notes are like a sketch an artist uses for a more detailed work.

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