If you watch Animal Planet as much as I do, you’ve heard a lot about the “Flehmen response” in cats, where they smell things through their mouths because of the Jacobson’s organ. Turns out horses do it, too, as you can see in Peter Meade’s great photo on the blog post of “The Nose Knows.” This whole post about smells is a great one. Like the author, as a fellow migraine sufferer, I am also very sensitive to odors.
I smell things that no one else does. When I was thinking about buying our house 20 years ago this month, I walked into the basement and instantly smelled mildew. Nobody else did: not my husband, not our realtor (and of course the sellers didn’t, wink, wink). What a surprise! Every time it rains, it pours in our basement. Years before that, I mentioned to a boyfriend that his car engine smelled off when he picked me up for a date. He was very glad for that date later when he found a problem in the engine upon examination.
Smells can trigger migraines for me (so if you ever gave me Youth Dew, Cinnabar, Giorgio or Red Door — sorry, it made me sick). Smells also trigger very strong memories: every now and then I get a whiff of the exact combination of cedar, mothballs and magazines that made up my grandmother’s attic, where we sometimes had to sleep when we visited her. I’m still hoping that someday I will find the same dishwashing liquid she used. I adored my grandma.
Beginning writers often (OK, even experienced writers sometimes) forget to invoke other senses besides sight. If they think of feeling, they don’t think of how things feel; instead, novice writers spend too much time on how their characters feel rather than thinking of what objects might feel like to those characters.
By now, some of you might be thinking, “Hey, she’s right. I might need to incorporate some senses into my writing.” I want to make it a bit more challenging than where your first instinct will lead you. Take a look at whatever you’re working on now.
Current draft: Possibly describes how things look.
Next try: Might describe what things smell like: “My grandmother’s attic smelled like mothballs and old wood chests.”
Second try: Invokes the smells through metaphors, verbs and other techniques, but the word “like” might not even appear: “My grandmother’s attic greeted my nostrils with its trusty cedar hope chests and naphthalene packets hung like ‘No Trespassing’ signs between aging woolen suits.” (OK, I didn’t say it was good; I said it was a “try.”)
So think about your writing. Does it make sense?