The Nose Knows.

We’ll be visiting each of the senses in our analysis of the Irish Firebrands writing process: Scent, Savor, Sight, Sound, Sensations.

A post on the blog A Portia Adams Adventure discussed the author’s adding a heightened sense of smell in the protagonist, who has suffered a loss of hearing and speech. The understanding was that it’s unusual for writers to include the olfactory sense.

Groucho_glassesI was intrigued by that post, so I checked my nightstand copy of Irish Firebrands to see how I did with including the sense of smell. In the first ten (10) chapters (127 pages), I had written twenty-two (22) references to scent! Chapters 4, 7 and 10 each had five (5) references to a smell. Only Chapter 8 had nothing olfactory about it. Some are fairly simple examples of awareness of a scent (or the lack thereof), and others are parts of more involved descriptions of a multi-sensory experience. Here they are:

1. On the hearth, there burnt a small fire that smelt of apple wood.

2. She bruised her shins upon the impedimenta that filled the musty darkness.

3. Just thinking of home-made apple pie – warm and fragrant – was extremely appealing … as was her mischievous smile.

4. He sniffed at the tea bags inside. “Ah, herbs. My wife used them, too. She grew her own. She didn’t take tea or coffee, either.”

5. The pathos of the music had made the pressure of Frank’s body welcome, but the aura of alcohol that accompanied this confidence now tarnished the comfort of his closeness.

6. Frank scanned the room, and then he sniffed. “I don’t see or smell any rotten aubergines – but I promise, if people start throwing ’em at you, I’ll pick ’em up and throw ’em back!”

7. He got up and went to the window, and cranking open the casement, he leant upon the windowsill and drew a great breath of fresh air.

8. The dreary morning had yielded to a fine afternoon – and what a shame it was to have wasted it in his flat, grinding out words as stale as the indoor air.

9. He gripped the edge of the table; then sat down and reached for his unfinished pint – but the very smell of it was so bitter it made him faint with nausea before he could put it to his lips.

10. He seized her, and bathed in her benevolence, he lost himself in the scent of her hair … the warmth of her body … the sound of her breathing….

11. It had been a feast for the senses: Mamó’s crockery bowls warmed on the iron cooker and filled with steamy, creamy potatoes flecked with bright green onions and surrounding deep golden wells of melted butter … mugs of ice-cold milk and slabs of warm soda bread … heaps of sweet jewel-like grapes and slices of aromatic cheese.

12. She carried no scriptures, but she did bring an aura of fresh cigarette smoke into the room. The glances exchanged by the other students indicated they noticed it, too.

13. She was dicing the last of Dillon’s cheese when she caught a whiff of smoke.

14. Now the smell of smoke was stronger … and it had an almost incense-like quality –

15. “It’s not as bad as cigarettes – but I appreciate your putting it out.”

16. She cast a calculating eye over the musty miscellany.

17. “Now, that I did notice about you, because I don’t smoke, myself -”

18. It was a harrowing trek – the paving bricks glistened with moisture that she feared might prove to be too slippery for her companion’s unsteady tread, and when back on the footpath she shrank from dark doorways that alternately sheltered lovers or lushes, and she recoiled from alleyways that reeked of urine and echoed with retching.

19. “Ah, you smell good!”

20. “Thanks. You smell like beer.”

21. When she returned to the living room the aroma of frying bacon lured her to the archway.

22. And indeed, he seemed to be his usual dapper self, clean-shaven and cologned – his bloodshot eyes being the only evidence of last night’s excesses.

I’m not sure what to think about this phenomenon. Perhaps I write this way because I’m a person with disabilities, and such things have become more noticeable to me. Also, I’ve never smoked, which affects the sense of smell; I haven’t had second-hand smoke in my environment for forty years, and none of my acquaintances smoke. Or maybe it’s heredity: I remember my Polish grandmother standing in the middle of a room and announcing, “I detect mold!” (Two of the above references are about something being “musty,” so when I wrote them, perhaps I was channeling Gramma!)

What do you think? Is this unusual? If you write fiction, how “nosey” are your characters?

©2012, 2013 Christine Plouvier


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