Monday, November 3, 2008

You Smell by Morgan Mandel

You smell. So do I. That’s why smells are so important in mystery writing. You can easily include some pretty smelly stuff in a scary story.

Who hasn’t read of the coppery smell of blood? The smell of a decaying body, be it human or animal? What about decaying vegetation? Spooky, unused houses with that closed up smell? Damp basements?

Then there are the nervous characters who tend to perspire in all kinds of places like the forehead, lips, under their arms, on the back. Some of that has to smell.

Even my dog, Rascal, after I’d taken her to obedience school where she hadn’t been in a few months, had more of a dog smell on her when we were driving home in the van. She loves people and other dogs, yet she was nervous about doing the right thing and trying to please everyone, hence the smell.

Then we come to the arsenal of colognes and perfumes. You can have a good time describing an unlikeable character by giving that person an overpowering cologne or perfume, or unbathed body odor.

Or, you can describe the pleasant scent of a character you want your reader to like. What about food aromas? What does that say about a character? Who would you expect to inhabit a house with a stinky fish or cabbage smell? I picture a rugged, sloppy guy who must be the bad guy. Or, if you’re describing a homey smell, with bread, cookies or cake in the oven, a picture comes to my mind of a giving mother or wife. Sure, these are stereotypes, but they can be very effective when offering description.

You can also twist such expected stereotypes around and offer contrast, such as by having a mean, nasty guy bake cookies. That can be even more frightening since it's unexpected.

So, remember to include the sense of smell in your manuscript. It's a great way to round out a story for your reader.

Can you think of other examples? Which ones have you used? I invite you to comment.


Anonymous said...

Great post, Morgan. So important to include ALL the senses in our writing. Here's an example from my new novel, Owen Fiddler-

The calm in the wake of that mystical jocundity allowed Owen’s other senses to kick in. He took in deep the breath of life, spiced weird as it was. Doc Felding’s cologne clashing with the flowers led the mix. Toss in a heavy dose of rubbing alcohol and polysporin ointment. Add a dash of bleach evaporating off the floor. Some smell. Owen loved it.

Marilyn said...

Yep, smells are definitely important and something many new authors forget to mention.


Karen Magill said...

It is amazing the memories that a certain smell can evoke as well. Like when I smell wet dog I think of when I was growing up on the banks of a river and our bassett hound would fall into the water every spring. My older brother would have to go get him because the dog's legs were too short to allow him to climb on the shore.

Morgan Mandel said...

We had a basset hound, named Sadie, after my husband and I first got married. She had a really cool howl. She was great, but she did slobber a lot.

Morgan Mandel

Dana Fredsti said...

I admit to using the aroma of food in MFH a lot. But nothing is better to me than the smell of freshly baked cookies...

Mark said...

It's easy to use smells to create revulsion by reminding readers that all smells are particulate. Both Michael Connelly and Lee Childs use this to good effect. In one book, Harry Bosch smells a decaying body and remarks that the fact that he can smell it means some particles of the body have attached themselves to a membrane in his nose.

Jean Henry Mead said...

Good post, Morgan. Odors are very important in fiction. We sometimes get so carried away with the action that we forget the sensory aspects of our storylines.

Anne Carter said...

To this day, when I smell diesel fuel, I often think of Disneyland.


©Hotbutton Press said...

If a smoker ever broke into my house, I'd know it in a minute. Can smell cigarette smoke on cars going by! I wonder if that's part of the reason I don't care for the Agatha Raisin character... I can smell her through the pages. The nose definitely has a memory.