The Power of Smell, Plus a Special Announcement…

How’s it going? Yesterday, we talked about how powerful sound was in fiction and copy. Today, I’d like to talk about smells. But before we get to that, I’d like to mention that Fiction and Copy Decoded is on Youtube now. You can check it out over this way.

Anyway, let’s get to it–smelling our way through fiction and copy.

In all fairness, I didn’t think this one up on my own–the judge for the middle-grade fiction contest I entered back near the beginning of April mentioned it.

The interesting thing about smells, for me, is that they can be good or bad, depending on the smell (or my own relationship, so to speak, with that smell).

Take chocolate chip cookies. Excellent smell. It’s awesome–one of the best smells there is (and BOO! on its lookalike oatmeal raisin–it’s okay as a cookie, but when you were thinking one and you got the other, it may not be so nice).

Now imagine smelling something like rancid grease. Ugh. It’s one of the worst smells there is, right?

But you’ll notice that in both cases, you knew what I was talking about, because you’ve already smelled those smells. Your brain made the connection for you about 0.0000001 seconds (just an estimate) after you read what I’d written above.

So you can have your readers move toward something good, or away from something bad. Same with your characters and prospects.

But they have to know the smell itself, before they can make the connections you want them to make. Lilacs are one of my favorite flowers. The smell is great. I know that because for over ten years, lilac bushes have been near where I live. A couple months a year, I can go smell them whenever I want. If you don’t know, no amount of me telling you about it will get you any closer to sharing in my experience. That’s another reason why smell is so powerful and so difficult–unless you get someone with really great descriptive powers (and maybe not even then), even something as powerful as the Internet won’t be able to describe what something smells like.

With a lot of smells, you have to smell them yourself–to make your own connections, good or bad. So it’s personalized. People can have a totally opposite relationship with the same smell. Take skunk smell for instance. I kinda like it–not in a strange way, let’s not be weird. But it’s one of the most recognizable smells on earth, and that’s why I think it’s pretty cool. And since I’m usually smelling it because someone ran over the smell’s owner, that means the more recently the skunk kicked the bucket, the stronger the smell is (not in every case, but usually).

I also like the smell of paper from print books (I spent a lot of time with those–especially in grade school, when it took me forever to do dictionary work because I kept getting sidetracked by words around the actual one I was supposed to be looking up).

And to make things totally me on this, I sometimes use the word “smells” instead of “sounds” or “seems.” “Smells like you’re having a problem with that” (that sort of thing).

Anyway, because smells are connected to memory, you can use that in your fiction and copy–someone remembering something their Mom baked for them as a kid, or your prospects’ memories of having fun in the sun, or summer barbecues, or what-have-ya. That’s where the power is. Use it to paint a picture.

And in the process of “smell showing,” you’ll show something deeper about your characters, your prospects’ desires or wants (or the future you want them to have), and yourself.

Until next time,



About Ty Mall

Thanks for stopping by. I've almost always been interested in writing, among other things. Along with discovering pop culture, I've uncovered a lot about the craft over the past 10 years. And whether you're a fiction writer or email copywriter, I'm here to pass on what I've found out. And have a ton of fun in the process.
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