Have you ever been transported to a different time or place by the mere whiff of a particular scent? The human sense of smell is undoubtedly one of the most evocative of our five senses and can trigger powerful memories, emotions and behavioural responses. As novelists, we recognize the power of smells to create an immersive fictional world, evoke mood and character, and even advance the plot. In this blog post, we’ll show you how odours can influence your characters and drive the story forward.
Creating Mood through Scents
Finding the right scent to create a specific mood is an essential ingredient in many successful novels. Consider the smell of a winter forest, freshly-baked bread, or saltwater, all of these smells can convey different emotions like coziness, comfort, and nostalgia. For instance, in Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility,” the scent of lavender in the air is used to create a romantic atmosphere at a party. Similarly, you can use different scents to evoke different moods in your story. Whether it’s an inviting scent of freshly brewed coffee that engenders feelings of warmth and comfort, or the acrid smell of burning rubber that creates tension and anxiety, the power of smells can add depth and intensity to your writing.
Triggering Memory and Emotion
Our sense of smell is linked to the oldest and deepest parts of our brain where memories and emotions reside. Therefore, certain odours can immediately evoke a range of feelings, from fear to joy, grief, or euphoria. For example, the whiff of a familiar perfume can take the protagonist back to a childhood memory, a traumatic event, or the scent of their lost love. Furthermore, smells can also be used to signal changes or foreshadow upcoming events in the story, such as the smell of rain foreshadowing a sudden storm. Understanding the power of smells can make your characters more relatable and help your readers to connect emotionally to your story.
Developing Characters through Smells
Just like any other aspect of their personality, you can use smells to develop and flesh out your characters. What kind of scent do they wear? What smells do they associate with a particular period in their life? What odours do they detest? These details can reveal a lot about their personality and backstory. For instance, the scent of sandalwood could represent an aura of mystery around a character, while the smell of bacon could convey a down-to-earth, relatable trait. Thus, understanding a character’s smells can enhance their depth and complexity.
Advancing the Plot with Smells
Furthermore, smells can also play a significant role in advancing the plot and creating suspense. By using strong smells to convey danger or risk, you can create an immersive environment for your reader. For instance, the smell of gasoline can indicate an approaching disaster or an accident waiting to happen. Equally, the scent of something sweet could suggest something sinister, such as a poisoned drink. In Stephen King’s “The Shining,” the ghostly apparitions in the Overlook Hotel produce a powerful smell – one that signals to Jack Torrance that he is no longer alone. Smells can be used to develop a plot, providing a method to anticipate or delay specific actions, assisting the reader in understanding or even predicting upcoming events, and ultimately keeping them hooked.
As we’ve seen from the examples given, smells can add depth, emotion, and complexity to your writing and advance the plot in unexpected ways. By employing the power of smells in your writing, you could create a more immersive and layered fictional world, engender a more significant emotional connection with your readers and guide them on a more unexpected and nuanced journey. So, the next time you pick up your pen or sit down at your keyboard, think about harnessing the power of smells in your writing, and take your readers on an unforgettable journey of the senses.