The Scents – and Sense – of Things

Red rose after rainWe had rain this week, unusual in June in both it’s duration and amount.  The last truly significant rain was the beginning of May, and we’ve been behind all year.  In a month’s time, drought will be the buzzword again.

But that’s not what is most compelling about this rain.  What changes the most when it rains here in summer is the way things smell.  Burnt-to-a-crisp wild grasses are suddenly weighted with spicy aromas.  The soil turns rich and balmy, redolent of humus and nature’s littlest creatures.  Pines become perfume.  To a one, all of these scents make me feel happy, convinced that we will survive another hot season.

The morning after, craving one last hit of the pungent bouquets before all dries again to midsummer brown, I walked across wild sages that mark the sides of the driveway, crushing them under my feet.  The oil will linger on my flip-flops for days, providing a pleasant reminder of this interlude.  Pushing errant tomato branches back inside their cages left me with their peppery aroma on my fingers, the smell of things tasty and green.  Water from the fountain splashed to the flagstones below, seasoning them with a mineral essence.  I savored the scents and sensations and tried to store them inside me for the continuing dry months.

orange rose after rainIt’s like that with fragrances.  The simplest thing can spiral you to another world, another lifetime, another experience.  Roses in the vase on my desk remind me of every garden I’ve tended in the course of my life.  Onions sautéing bring me to my parents’ kitchen and family night dinners.  Citrus makes me happy.  Cigarettes make me sad.

How can we use the sense of scent to paint a picture in our stories?  See what you understand about the character’s feelings and what he’s experiencing from the following:

“The bite of chlorine was harsh today, intense enough to stay in his pores past the post-workout shower and his day full of meetings. His skin would still stink of this when he sat with a beautiful woman over cocktails as the sun ditched the city below a smudged horizon.

Except there was no beautiful woman. He would take this lonely perfume to his bed without the benefit of a gentle reproach of flared nostril. It alone would scent his dreams.”

When you write your next work, consider how your characters might be experiencing the situations in their lives through the sense of smell.  Can it catapult them into action, freeze them in dark memories, or excite their libidos?  Any of this can happen, if you let them act on it.

What scents carry you off to someplace different?  How can you use that sense with more energy in your writing?  Let’s share some new ideas on the sense of scent!

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