A Guide to the Forgotten Sense

We often overlook scent in our writing, opting to create our characters and worlds through sight alone, but that’s a cheap version of the human experience.

Scent 2

Have you ever passed a stranger in the airport and been slammed with homesickness because they’re wearing the same cologne as your husband? Cried because that shirt still smells like the loved one who’s now gone? Felt like you were home despite the miles just because a certain candle was lit?

Scents are tied to memories and memories are inextricably linked to emotions. Good stories elicit emotion in their readers by making the characters and the world real in the same way that readers experience their own world– through their five senses.

Here are some words to help you incorporate scent into your writing.

Set-Up Words

The moment he entered the room, the…

  • Aroma
  • Imbued
  • Infused
  • Musk
  • Perfume
  • Scent
  • Smell
  • Sniff
  • Waft
  • Whiff

Scent Qualities

The moment he entered the room, the air was infused with the…

  • Acrid
  • Antiseptic
  • Bite
  • Bright
  • Burnt
  • Citrus
  • Clean
  • Coppery
  • Creamy
  • Creeping
  • Cutting
  • Dusty
  • Earthy
  • Floral
  • Fresh
  • Greasy
  • Heady
  • Leathery
  • Light
  • Lingering
  • Medicinal
  • Metallic
  • Minty
  • Musty
  • Noxious
  • Overpowering
  • Overwhelming
  • Papery
  • Petrichor
  • Pungent
  • Putrid
  • Rancid
  • Reeking
  • Salty
  • Sharp
  • Smoky
  • Sour
  • Spicy
  • Stale
  • Sterile
  • Strong
  • Subtle
  • Sulfuric
  • Sweet
  • Tangy
  • Warm

Scent References

The moment he entered the room, the air was infused with the sharp, spicy bite of curry that instantly set her nose and eyes running.

  • Animal
  • Apple
  • Cardamom
  • Cheese
  • Chocolate
  • Clean linen
  • Cloves
  • Curry
  • Dried leaves
  • Grass
  • Hay
  • Lavender
  • Lemon
  • Lilac
  • Menthol
  • Motor Oil
  • Peppermint
  • Pine
  • Rubber
  • Smoke
  • Strawberries
  • Sweat
  • Wood

Some Unexpected Resources

Smell and taste are so closely related, it’s only logical that our words for the two senses would overlap as well. Some of the most valuable resources I’ve found for describing scents come from the food world, particularly the realm of coffee and wine.

The Specialty Coffee Association of America’s Flavor Wheel and Wine Folly’s Guide to 120 Wine Descriptors are great places to start when you need inspiration. Candle stores, cologne and makeup descriptions, and foodie review blogs can also be helpful (and entertaining) in your quest for the perfect scent.

 

Best of luck in your quest to add sensory depth to your writing.

Please comment below if you have any additions or good references that you’d be willing to share!

-Abigail signing off-

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