While working on my latest story I discussed some chapters with a critique partner. We worked together to try and improve one paticular chapter and sought ways to give it additional depth. All the time I was looking for the ‘I’m there’ factor for the reader. The work we did made me think.
This is the first part of the results of my thoughts on writing to include the senses. The sense of smell.
One way of adding greater depth to writing is to involve all the senses in a scene, or to perhaps focus on one particular sense. My discussions with my critique partner reminded me of the importance of the sense of smell and how it can transport us to a memory so easily.
Recently an example of this grabbed my attention. A group of young men, not much more than boys walked by as I sat in the sunshine in a local park. They’d obviously not yet discovered the maxim ‘less is more’ and swaggering past they treated me to the sensual shock of so much aftershave in the air I coughed. I was immediately transported back to my days in school, to the fortnightly excitement of entering the school hall where the disco took place. The fragrance of aftershave, unlike anything my father might wear, imprinted itself on my mind those nights. Now, some years later, scenting it again brought back many memories. Thoughts of friends, of hopes and dreams, of faces I’ve not seen since the last school bop.
I recalled the music as it thumped so loud the floorboards in the hall bounced. My thoughts lingered on the fashions of the day and my favorite skirt, a calf length silky brown thing that swirled as teetering on platform shoes I danced. So much recollection prompted by one waft of an aroma, astonishing.
Over the years I have used fragrance in many ways in my work in schools. At one time, when teaching a deaf blind child I wore the same perfume every day I worked with him, so the boy always knew who I was. Working with another group of children, one of whom was blind, I recall the thrill at the conversation when the boy came to say goodbye as he was about to leave school. ‘Do you remember the trip for Christmas, Miss?’ he asked. ‘I’ll always remember the smell of that old building,’ he said. He referred to a medieval hall where we’d completed activities based on a Tudor style Christmas four years before.
I shouldn’t be surprised at the power of fragrance and aroma. They fix a memory in a moment, or identify a loved one and can bring comfort in that person’s absence. Aroma can cause anticipation and pleasure, and a fragrance can be as distinctive an experience as any other. Therefore, if we use it in our writing, the reader gains another level of bonding with the character and is fixed more firmly in the character’s point of view and world. This adds depth and helps suck the reader deeper into the story. I have to say reading that last line I did wonder if I sound like some strange creature seeking after reader’s consciousness. I hope you know I’m not, but I do want my readers to be transported to another world when they read my stories, to experience and feel with the characters.
I have tried to encapsulate the importance of fragrance in my forthcoming story ‘A Gentleman’s Folly’ to be published by Liquid Silver Books in the autumn this year. Fragrance in the 18th century was recognized for its power and could be individualized for the wearer. The heroine’s chosen perfume plays an important role at one point in this my newest historical story.
Of course, not all fragrances are pleasant, some are noxious and can provoke instant dislike or worse. Realizing you may be reading this with your morning coffee or tea; I won’t dwell on the unpleasant aromas, but only say once again the sense of smell proves its power.
One of my greatest wishes as a writer is to go back in time and capture the fragrance or stink of a day. A medieval banquet-a street market in Tudor England-the below deck quarters of a ship during the Armada battles- a Jacobean country house welcoming its owners-the kitchens as they prepared food for above stairs and the staff below. I’m sure you have your own ideas of places, times and situations you’d like to sample and discover if the aroma is what you imagine.
Look out for my next senses post where I’ll be talking about the power of taste.
A warm welcome to the new people following the blog. Happy reading and writing to you all.