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Monday, March 28, 2011

Do You Smell Something?

On Friday I talked about how characters pay a heckuva lot of attention to other people’s eyes. (Recap: Your main character probably won’t notice the eye color of the mysterious boy standing 15 feet away from her.)

Some of you mentioned that you’re eye people.* Other people may notice the eyebrows (most likely those of us who weren’t blessed with perfect arches) or hair (especially on a bad hair day). It just proves that not every character has to focus on the eyes first, just like not all of us do.

The thing I fixate on first? Scent.

If I were ever to be a supernatural creature, I’m pretty sure I’d be a werewolf. Actually, I’m not 100 percent positive that I’m not a werewolf. My sense of smell is kind of canine-like.**

(That’s not always a good thing, by the way. At least twice a day I get a new water glass because the current one smells off. I’ll smell the leftover dirty cleaning water*** sticking to a restaurant table. The Man thinks I’m nuts when I say things like, “Ew, this place smells like movie theater restroom hand soap mixed with eye glasses cleaner.” I hear pregnant women get like this. Someone will have to let me know.)

The thing is, when I walk into a room I notice the fact that the living room smells like an attic before I see the giant blow-up elephant on the floor.

My point for bringing this up—aside from having you all call me freak in the comments—is because I think smell is so often forgotten. And when it is used, it describes things everyone notices: food, perfume, books, rotting corpses (hey, you never know…), breath, dirty clothes and so on.

But what about those things only your character would recognize? The scent of vitamins, burning hair, the fragrance that a peach leaves behind on your fingers (which is not the same scent as a peach), the first whiff of a just-opened bag of potato chips, or the smell of tap water—and, trust me, all water doesn’t smell the same.

If your character is sitting in her yard, let her notice the revolting scent of dog pee–covered grass that has been baking in the sun instead of the freshly mowed lawn.

Then there’s the whole idea that smell is tied to memory, but I’m going to skip over that today to prevent this blog post from becoming a thesis paper.

Oh, and here’s what I’m smelling right now: boxes (I just moved), the heat from the hallway slipping under my door (I keep my place at 66 so there’s no scent of heat in my place), way too much chlorine in this gross D.C. water, and the scent of this medicine I just took—bubble gum trying to cover up toilet bowl cleaner. 

What do you smell right now? How would one of your characters describe it?

*Sorry that sounds bad, like you have and eye fetish. I’m guessing that’s not what you meant. You didn’t, right?

** Maybe it’s compensating for my vision. A few hundred years ago and I would have been legally blind. 

*** Yes, dirty cleaning water. If you’ve ever served, you know what I mean.

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