Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Can you Smell that Story?

So the other day I was pulling into my favorite coffee place (Dunkin of course!) and all of a sudden, WHAM!, a memory brought me smack back down to the middle of my 10th grade science class. I was sitting next to --well, I can't remember his name at the moment, but he was my lab partner. And very cute too. But one small problem. We had a dead frog laying on his back on the table in front of us, and my lab partner had the scalpel in his hand and the expectation that I would make the second cut. I know exactly what you're thinking..... Iced hazelnut, skim milk, and one sugar reminds you of dissecting a frog in high school?


When I pulled through the drive up, I had both windows and the moon roof open--and then it hit me. The Smell. The same exact smell of the cleaner or antiseptic or whatever the science teacher used to clean the desks, floor, and all the areas around where the frog dissection took place. I don't know the name of the cleanser, or really what exactly they used, but I hope you get the picture. But I do remember one thing. That smell evoked such a strong memory in me that I was transported back to a time that took place more than twenty years ago.

The whole frog experience made such a strong connection with me because that day in the science lab was attached to an emotion, maybe even more than one. Anger. Stubborness. Disgust. I refused to dissect the frog. In fact, I think my mom even had to go to the school because I would not even consider the idea of touching it.

Even though that was an off-the-wall example, it basically describes the same process with fiction writing. When we create a powerful scene, and really in all the scenes we write, we attach emotion. But, to evoke the memorable story-gripping emotion, we have to use the five senses... smell, hearing, touch, taste and vision. That way, the reader can connect an emotion to the scene like I connected that smell to the battle I had about dissecting the frog.

Yes, I could "see the frog" but how did I feel about my experience with the frog? So here goes. If I had to put my experience with the frog according to the senses, this is what it would read like:

  • Smell: Hazy antiseptic-like odor shot up my nasal passages with the fierceness of poison.
  • Hear: The incessant beat of my heart quickened, drumming thickly in my ears.
  • Touch: My hands were paralyzed, unable, unwilling to embrace the idea of touching the frog's slick coat.
  • Taste: A tasteless lump formed in the back of my throat.
  • Vision: Lifeless frog, spread like an eagle. (okay that may be a little hokey pokey, but you get the picture!)
When the smell of antiseptic hit me, it didn't matter where I was. Being in a line for coffee was a casualty. I could have been anywhere and the smell would have evoked the same emotion! And if we're lucky, our readers will remember our stories the same way-- a long time after closing the book.

I did enjoy my iced coffee after the drive-thru, and I had a nice time remembering my lab partner. ;)

Happy Writing!


kathy akins said...

You never cease to amaze me. You always involk memories for me. Sense of smell always brings back a strong memory. Example- whenever I smell cayola crayons I think of St Rose grammar school when it was first built!!!
keep writing...you are the best and what a movie your book will make
Kathy A

Welcome! said...

Thanks for posting Kathy! When I smell crayons, I think of kindegarton.. Thanks for your encouragement..:))))

RoseAnn DeFranco said...

Great Blog, Chris. You have a great grasp of how to envoke all five senses in your writing.

Christine Clemetson said...

Thank you RoseAnn...Now..hmmm..we now know how to add PINK and supersize! LOL!

Thanks you so much for coming by! :)