Did you know that of the five senses, the one that is the best memory inducer is smell? Scientists think this is because smell is the first sense that we develop as infants. It’s been proven that smells can take you right back to childhood. Heck, I experienced this myself a few weeks ago.
My daughter knocked a chair over on top of herself, breaking her big toe. I took her into an urgent care center for an x-ray, and the nurses came in with a juice box and a few scratch-and-sniff stickers for her to help calm her down. I caught a whiff while I was taking one off the paper roll and BAM! Just like that, I was transported back to my kindergarten classroom, lying on a cot next to a boy who was daring me to pick up a dead spider on the floor between us and trying to bribe me with a scratch-and-sniff sticker. I picked up the spider and wore that sticker for the rest of the day. I hadn’t thought of that story in years, but there it was, smacking me in the face in an urgent care center.
The sense of smell is a powerful one. I have a friend, a writing partner, who picks a brand new candle whenever she starts a new book and lights it when she’s writing. The smell of that candle will always remind her of that particular book. This is an absolutely genius idea, if you ask me, and one I’m going to steal when I start a new book. Thanks, Kerry!
Smell can also be a great unifier. I mean, we all know what the smell of freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies is. Or fresh laundry. Or the ocean as it breaks against the sand. Using one of these common smells is a great way to draw readers deeper into your story. I read a story recently that talked about the smell of freshly cut grass. My mind immediately flashed back to running barefoot through backyards in the summer as a child. Someone else might think of that one time the lawnmower broke and started smoking. But the point is that by using memory-invoking images in your writing, you make readers connect with your story on another level.
So describing what something looks like or sounds like is great (and absolutely necessary), but don’t forget about smell!