What’s That Smell?

The job of the author to tell a story to the readers. The writer must amuse the reader, inform them, or maybe even persuade them. A big part of telling the story includes writing descriptions of the people that readers meet and the places they take them.

When you start reading a book, the author may be transporting you to a scenic fishing village surrounding a sea port on the coast of Italy, or to a lunar base where new weapons are being off-loaded by a team of hover-bots, or to a magic castle nestled high up in the Scottish highlands.

Where ever you are taken, it is the responsibility of the author to regale you with all the important sights and sounds that the characters encounter, as if you were standing right there with them.

You would probably even read about the scents, either good or bad, that waft past their noses. And for me? That was a bit of a problem. I can’t smell. Or taste. After a massive brain injury when I was young, I lost the ability to smell (and, because of that, taste). Even the memories of tastes and smells are long gone.

When I was conducting my research for The Mice Storm, I quickly realized that mice depend on their sense of smell a great deal. Their eyesight is terrible. And while their hearing is exceptional, it’s their sense of smell that helps to stay safe, learn quickly about unfamiliar mice, and find food. All of this meant that I needed to be constantly thinking about smells, describing them, and conscious of the importance of that sense throughout the book. And… that’s tough to do when it’s not something that is part of your life.

I had to rely on additional research, as well as my friends and family, so that I could accurately convey those descriptions. It presented a challenge but certainly not as difficult as someone who might be without their eyesight or their hearing. Imagine a deaf author, who has never heard anything, having to describe all the sounds that his or her characters would encounter throughout their story?

The old saying “Write what you know” doesn’t generally apply to the five senses. I might be difficult to effectively describe that small Italian fishing village if I had never visited but, with enough research, I could make it work. Hopefully, I included all the right smells that the characters in my book encountered.

What would be a challenge for you to write about?

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