Whether you’re a fiction writer or professional editor, this series is for you!

We know how smell is very important in describing on our books. This new topic of our story element tells you how you can make the ‘sense of smell’ memorable and how we should be using and implementing this type of sense.

Discover how to use the element “Sense of Smell” in a story to improve your writing now.


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Transcript with Kristina Stanley

JoEllen: Hi and welcome to Publishing Power and welcome to Publishing Power. My name is JoEllen! And I am here today with Kristina Stanley from Fictionary and we are talking about ‘The 38 Story Elements’ as we work our theme way through all of the Self-Editing Tools that you can use out there.

JoEllen: Welcome Kristina!

Kristina: Hi JoEllen! So this week we are continuing to cover the senses within the ‘Setting’ story elements. And we’re gonna cover SMELL.

JoEllen: Excellent! Excellent! And we know how smell is very important in describing our books. So tell us how we can make it more memorable and how we should be using and implementing the sense of smell into our writing.

So it doesn’t stink.. Shall we say!


How we can make SENSE of SMELL more memorable and how we should be using and implementing the sense of smell into our writing?

Kristina: Yes! We don’t want to see the stink! Although maybe we do because that could be important.

JoEllen: Oh okay!

JoEllen and Kristina: *Laughs*

Kristina: Well last week we covered sight and we covered it because it’s typically the most used sense in a story. But I don’t want people to forget about the other senses.

So just a little recap.. So smell is.. You need to describe the odors but they must be described from the point of view of the character’s senses and not from something they can’t experience.

And if you write descriptions that are rich in smell, it’s gonna bring the reader into your story. So the most obvious sense of smell is that it can trigger the character’s memory.

We all know that when we smell something.. We go “aww.” Remember when.. Whatever. Make it good or bad. And it can provoke an emotional response which then shows something about your character.. Which is what you want for character depth. The memory can be good or bad.

And here’s what gets really interesting with the story elements, is that we want to use them all together and so we have to..

Our smell is a great memory trigger into our flashback or backstory.

So when you want to give a piece of backstory or you want to jump into an active flashback scene, smell is a great one to do because of the way the human brain works when you smell something.

And so it comes very natural in your book. You can use smell to create tension. So if you use conflicting smells they can work against each other.

So say.. Smell of a dead body.. Mixed with a lover’s perfume.. Now, think of the triggers there.. Right?? Now maybe you’re thinking.. You know.. Okay someone murdered this person and maybe he’s my lover because I can smell the perfume. Right?? Or their cologne.. Whatever you want to use.

So you want to make sure that when you’re using smell, it’s something related to the plot and makes it a little bit more exciting.


What are the pitfalls we need to avoid when we’re using smell in our scenes?

JoEllen: Okay. But when we’re using this I’m sure there is something that may or may not be the best to use.. So what are the pitfalls we need to avoid when we’re using smell in our scenes?

Kristina: Yeah, so one of the first things that I notice when I’m editing is.. Maybe sometimes a writer is trying too hard, they use smell that the reader won’t be familiar with. So it’s something very specific to an industry and that not everybody would know about.

They’re trying to be a little bit fancy.. But if the reader doesn’t understand what the smell is then it’s meaningless to them, can’t relate to something and they’re experiencing the story and it would take them out of the story which is a bad thing.

So if you need to use smell that you think might not be very common then take the time to describe it and use smell in a way that the reader can understand what it is.

The other thing I see is.. Writer’s not comparing smells. So if you vary your description you can say something smells like something so the perfume smells like a rose. And that’s okay, it’s better than no descriptions. It’s a common way of doing it.

But you can add themes.. How strong is that smell, what type of smell is it at first.. And what does the smell remind the character then you’re bringing it right back to the character again.

JoEllen: Okay I think this is important because it generates something I think of like percolating coffee, any coffee that is percolated in old glass coffee that I’m instantly laying in bed at my grandmother’s house..” and it’s early morning and I’m just waking up.” So they’re very distinct and it’s something you can’t control.

So it’s very nice when you can create these sudden responses in your writing. Just bring it to the forefront of how important that can be.


How do we put smell into action? What’s our suggestions?

So every time we do this we talk about what we can do today.. How do we put this into action? What’s our suggestion?

Kristina: We’re getting to the point of story elements where you really want to pay attention to how they’re interacting with each other and not just on their own so every writer who’s watching this, they come a long way through the elements.

And as we talked about before, with all of the elements, you need to keep track of what senses you’re using in your story..

And so in smell, you can go two ways.. You can just use a check and yup, I used the sense of smell and when you’re done, all of your scenes, you’ll be looking at all of the senses together, and see which ones you use and how you balance them..

And did you only use one or did you use all five.. However you want to do it and the other thing you can do is you can actually list the smells so that you can look and see.. If you think you have the tendency to be competitive like the copy example..

And if you are trying to really enhance or think harder about what would trigger a flashback and maybe with your example earlier.. The flashback is you used to that memory and you smell this percolating coffee but one morning you’re at your grandmother’s house..

But you can really think about it hard when you’re using an angle: What is it triggering? And what emotions you want for the character and the reader to experience from it.

JoEllen: Excellent! So we’re gonna go through that and check our smells in all of our scenes, every scene once again.

And again, if you need automated/electronic help with that, of course, you can check out Fictionary, that’s what they do!

I do want to remind everyone who’s visited us today Publishing Power to follow, like, and share this with anybody else out there that you know is trying to write the next bestseller because that is our goal here, to help you be able to be empowered and knowledgeable so that you can do more yourself!

And when you need a professional editor that you have the right knowledge on how to communicate your needs and how to know how to become a better writer in the future.

So again, thanks for joining us! And I’ll see you again next time Kristina!

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