Smelling something unpleasant? Not really. It’s more an expression of disagreement or disappointment about a particular place or event, which demonstrates how often we use the sense of smell to reveal emotion and understand our world.
We ‘smell a rat’ when we suspect something is wrong.
We ‘sniff out a traitor’ and follow the clues that uncovers an enemy.
We wake up and ‘smell the coffee’ to become more alert and aware.
And perhaps the most famous example would be that of Marcellus, an officer in Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, who states, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark,” to express that things are unsatisfactory.
Scientists tell us that fear emits its own scent which explains why people who are afraid of bees, cats, or dogs seem to attract them the most.
On the positive side, ‘stopping to smell the roses’ encourages us to take time to appreciate life. The arrival of a pleasant person, or relief from a difficult situation can be like smelling a ‘breath of fresh air.’
And men and women alike know the attractive power of colognes and perfumes. (But that’s the subject for a different type of post.)
So, what does all of this have to do with writing? Much! Like ‘Show Don’t Tell’, using the sense of smell can be a useful tool to create more emotional and dynamic scenes that engage the reader.
In Disney’s animated film, Tarzan, (1999), the gorilla Kala is led by her senses to a treehouse. There she smells danger. Her vision takes in the overturned furniture and destruction that denotes a fight took place. Following her senses, she discovers the baby Tarzan. Her heart goes out to the baby and she adopts him as her own. Sigh. Ain’t love grand?
Not one word of dialogue. But a masterful use of the senses to evoke emotion and create a powerful scene.
If my writing could draw someone in like the welcoming scent of a delicious pie, envelop them in a hypnotic aroma of coffee or tea, and keep them reaching for more, I will be in scentsational writer heaven!
See you next time on April 22nd.
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