Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Power of Smell

I recently spent a couple of days writing on the porch of a cabin near Flagstaff. The swing pictured above is where I sat and drank my coffee while I wrote. Notice the pine trees in the background? They reminded me of the power of smell. The friend I was with must have thought I was nuts because I kept going outside just to smell the pine trees. We both attended Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff during the early eighties and the aroma brought back the feelings of both excitement and anxiety at being on my own for the first time. At one point, I had to remind myself that I am a middle-aged woman with a career so I could squelch the anxiety and tap into the excitement.

I’m sure most of you have heard homeowners may bake chocolate chip cookies before showing their house to prospective buyers. It's a safe bet that most people would enjoy the aroma of cookies baking and it may even bring back childhood memories of helping Mom in the kitchen. I prefer the memories of eating those hot, gooey chocolate chip cookies. The only thing better would be a hot looking man baking those cookies – oh, well, I’ll save that fantasy for one of my books.

Aromas can bring both favorable and unfavorable memories. When I was young, I always knew I was coming down with something if I suddenly couldn’t handle the smell of my mother cooking pork chops. I would have to leave the room. On the other hand, the smell of rain approaching always brings back the memory of gazing at the desert in Tucson after a downpour. The rain washed away the dust and pollution, leaving the landscape looking clean and the colors vivid. The distant mountains always appeared closer after a rain.

When writing your stories, use the power of smell to your advantage. A single word can make your page come alive. What are the mental pictures that come to you when you read the following: baked bread, roses, garlic, baby powder, chlorine, freshly cut grass, cigarette smoke, cigar smoke, popcorn…? I’m sure you can think of dozens more.

If you have an example of a strong aromatic trigger, please share.

Until next week,

Happy Writing,
Tina LaVon


Donna Del Grosso said...

I laughed out loud as you described the fact you kept going outside to smell the pine trees. Whenever it rains, I go in the backyard and sniff. I've been known to get under the rain to let it fall over me. All in the name of research, of course.
And don't even get me started about the aroma of spaghetti sauce!

MJFredrick said...

I have a strong connection of scent to memories. The one that hit me most powerfully in recent memory is Bath and Body's Cherry Blossom. I smelled it and immediately thought of my grandmother's bathroom in CA, about 35 years ago, after my bath. I don't know why, and neither my mom nor dad make the same connection, but now I love that fragrance because it reminds me of my grandmother.

Tina LaVon said...

Those are great examples. The aroma of spaghetti sauce reminds me of my mother's homemade sauce. Yum! I love the rain!!! I remember walking through the puddles on Luke AFB when I was in high school. Cherry Blossoms sound wonderful. Now I'll make a point of smelling it the next time I am in B&B.

Thanks for sharing, ladies.