Saturday, August 14, 2010

What's that smell?

For me, right now, it's brownies baking—I have a Romance Writers of America regional chapter meeting tomorrow and I need to bring treats. It got me thinking about what a fabulous sense smell is for authors and readers. Let me paint a picture using just that one sense… What have I been smelling in the last couple hours? Chicken stew, the new leather of handbags and the plastic of toys in a museum gift shop, the ocean, red wine. My afternoon, in an olfactory snapshot!

Smell is probably my favorite sense to exploit when I'm writing. I've heard it said that many people first childhood memories come to them through smell. It's an incredibly strong and evocative sense, and so naturally it's a great tool for bringing readers into a scene and giving them that sense that they're right inside the characters' skin. In the book Blaze has just officially titled Caught on Camera (love that acronym, snicker) it's all about winter. Spruce, wood smoke, damp and musty lumber, hot, grasping bodies in the firelit darkness— Oh, sorry. Got distracted there.

For the book I'm hoping Blaze will decide to buy next, it's all about Montana ranch country from a wrong-side-of-the-tracks city girl's perspective. For that story I did some research, volunteering for a day at a horseback riding facility. Like my heroine, this non-horse-sensical girl needed a crash course in just what it smells like in such settings. Pungent, earthy…fertile is the best word for it, I think. Horse crap, hay, old leather, yet more wood smokes, yet more hot, grasping bodies in the… There I go again.

Any other authors out there working on a story with some intriguing scent details? We all know the classics—fire, perfume, sweat, fresh bread. Any nonstandard favorites to share? Details unique to your setting and your characters?

Speaking of smells, the brownies are calling to me. I like them undercooked and fudgy, so pardon me while I go tend to my domestic duties. Hope whatever you're sniffing right now is a happy smell. Especially if it's hot, grasping bod—

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