Writing That Makes Sense – Part 2 – Smell

In part one of Writing That Makes Sense, I talked about building a vocabulary for SIGHT, now let’s hit that second sense, SMELL.

I picked SMELL to work with second because you cannot TASTE without the sense of smell. In short, aroma brings home the bacon. (Sorry, might not be factual, but so much fun to say!)

So how does a writer bring the sense of smell to a piece? Begin by thinking about things that evoke responses in you when you smell them — favorable and not so much, because both of those can help build a smelly vocabulary.

Sometimes it’s enough to mention an object that evokes the smell without saying,” the aroma of _____.”

Coffee. Fresh baked bread. Freshly mowed grass. Burnt sage. Pine. All evoke a sense of smell without even using an adjective. Then there are the seven basic odors the human nose can detect:

  • Camphor –  mothballs
  • Musk – perfume
  • Floral – roses
  • Mint – peppermint candy canes
  • Etherial – gasoline
  • Pungent – vinegar
  •  And last-but-not-least on the reaction scale, Putrid – Unnaturally green food in the back of your fridge.

For now, I’m lumping the pheromone system in with the sense of SMELL, but there is some evidence that there are actually two senses that the nose connects with our brain.


Grab your magazines and start looking for pictures of things that smell. Take a sheet of paper and list all the nouns, adjectives and verbs that you can think of that have to do with smelling. Sharp, sweet, sniff, quaff, waft, you get the idea. Try combining some of them that you wouldn’t ordinarily put together. You never know what might work.

Now go back to that piece you did with SIGHT and add something about the SMELLs in the air. Don’t make it like a laundry list — you know what I’m talking about.

Susan saw the orange cones. Susan smelled burning rubber as she hit the brakes.

Susan’s car shot past the orange cones trailing a cloud of burning rubber as her foot pressed hard against the brake pedal.

Second exercise; Go for a walk with your pocket notebook. Stop somewhere and close your eyes. What do you smell? Can you identify individual people by their smell? Objects close at hand? List them complete with the impressions you got just from your nose.

Happy writing!


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