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The Elements of Scent

Writing Tips #2 in the Series

Elements crucial to most any medium of storytelling require that who, what, where, when and why are addressed. While they are a good construct, what is really going to breathe life into a world are sensory details.


It is not enough to have the character see the terror, or beauty, of what is unfolding before them. They have to feel the heat and weight of the gun in their hands. The astringent and tangy taste of blood and fear that fills their mouth. The sound of those great and terrible wings that flap overhead as alien bugs continue to pick off fellow troopers. And the smell. The smell needs to be distinct to evoke a visceral response from your reader so they too can experience the unlikely scent of juicy fruit gum emanating from the cracked skull of an enemy who lay at their feet.

“Basically, fiction is people. You can’t write fiction about ideas.” – Theodore Sturgeon.

Ideas are important but they are only a small piece of the human experience. Sturgeon knew that writing, especially fiction, is about transporting the human experience into whatever setting has been created. It requires a writer to note their everyday surroundings in minute detail; how everything feels on the skin, tongue and in the olfactory system, so it can all be later transcribed.

These details are crucial, but it is also equally important to not bombard the reader to distraction with these sensory inputs. They should be sprinkled in, in a way that creates balance throughout the story. The relationship between the protagonist and their senses can also be a driving factor of the plot and conflict.

In Writers of the Future Volume 31 in the story entitled “The God Whisperer,” the author Daniel J. Davis incorporates vivid scent description to contribute to conflict. The Barbie-size war God that Jack has adopted emits a most unpleasant smell. Doris “The God Whisperer” who has been brought in to aide with the training of the unruly god, Zu’ar, comments on this.

Doris wrinkled her nose. “Does he always bring that burning and decay scent with him?”


“That’s actually a very common sign of dominance with war gods,” Doris said. “They use it as a way to mark their territory. The scent is supposed to terrify more passive gods and mortals into submission. Have you ever tried to get him to stop?”

Readers find themselves wrinkling our nose alongside Doris, as she identifies the scent that is linked to his behavior problems.

Comic books have made their bread and butter off of different senses being heightened and/or stripped from characters time and again.

Our connection with our senses is the foremost way we interact with the world, so make it a significant mode of how characters navigate through their world to overcome their problems.


Peter Wacks

Peter Wacks

Guest blogger Peter J. Wacks is a bestselling cross-genre writer. He has worked across the creative fields in gaming, television, film, comics, and most recently, when not busy editing, he spends his time writing novels and there are over 3.5 million copies of his stories in circulation.

Holly Roberds

Holly Roberds

Co-author Holly Roberds wrote a science fiction/romance trilogy before being told to scrap the lot of it. Since then, she has hunted for all information about the craft of writing, honing and evolving her skills. Roberds is currently applying all hard-won knowledge to rewriting her novels, and getting her short stories published. She is also a professional freelance article/blog writer, singer/songwriter, and never has less than five jobs at one time.

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