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Novel Scents

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

How would you describe the smell of coffee?
Ever tried to describe a particular scent? When I read a novel, one of the components that makes me forget that I'm reading and creates suspension of disbelief are the various scents I experience. If a writer can make me smell fresh brewed coffee so that I imagine I can really taste it then that's something I want to experience again and I'll be more likely to want to read that authors novels.

Developing our abilities to create smells that we are familiar with or perhaps have never experienced are important and we must learn to convey this very special sense into our novels. The better we get at this skill the more likely we are to draw our reader into the story.

 "The inability of our language to fully capture the nuances of scents can be very frustrating. We associate scents with something – a place, a memory, a flavor – but most people struggle to describe smell on its own terms." Here's the link where you can read more of what Victoria has to say: Speaking Perfume: A-Z of Common Fragrance Descriptions. I couldn't agree more.

If you are a writer I'd like you to delve into your current manuscript and decide if you've included enough of the aromas, smells, and odors for your novel scents.  I struggle with this and have to work extra hard to make sure I don't overlook opportunities to expand my readers enjoyment.

Here are a couple brief examples from all three of my novels.

1. Secrets of the Heart - Melton sniffed the air. “Fresh bread, beef, and roasting pheasant if I’m not mistaken. I’m ravenous.”

2. Chameleon - Mrs. Miller entered from the kitchen, carrying a tray of small bowls of bread pudding and clotted cream. The pleasing fragrance of cinnamon and nutmeg filled the air.

3. Mystery of the Heart (releasing in January 2013) - The scent of clove and sandalwood lifted with the lid of the first trunk. She gently searched through the first layer to find something to wear while she slept. Perhaps a shirt of Lord Eden’s would do.  

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.-Shakespeare
 I encourage you to visit You'll find some descriptions there that will give you more ideas. I recently visited a friends home and the hand-washing soap in the bathroom was coconut-lime. It smelled so good to me I thought it was almost edible. Ever have that experience?

If you are a connoisseur of historical romance novels you are probably very familiar with The Connection Between Vinegar and the Fainting Couch. There's a great picture here of a 19th c. Victorian silver vinaigrette and wonderful information for those of you writing during this age. And if you want to explore more on the power of attraction between men and women you can find out more at The Sense of Smell Institute where I found this article titled, Fragrant Attraction, Smell is the Key to Choosing a Romantic Partner and more articles in their archives.Go here.

We all know that some odors are not so pleasant. Pull a novel from your bookshelf and find a sentence that describes a less than lovely aroma. I just finished reading, What Remains of Heaven by C.S. Harris who writes Regency Mysteries. Here's a sentence from this novel, The air in the vestry was chill and close, the stale scent of old incense overlaid by the pungent odors of dried blood and death. I love that!

Horse Scents
I grew up with horses. I appreciate the smell of fresh hay, sweet feed, horse manure, and saddle soap. I know others may not enjoy those odors. If you're a horse lover you'll understand.

 Our sense of smell can make one person sigh with pleasure and another wrinkle their nose in disgust.

Let's share our novel scents and any special posts you've found that may help all of us. What are some of the scents you've written into your novels or read in a novel you enjoyed? Got a favorite?


  1. Ooooh great idea!! I know when I wrote the castle scene in my book, The Dragon Forest, I made sure to add the smells of the foods cooking in the kitchen to that scene.

    One reader commented on the details and how she loved all the food and aromas.

    Great tip!!

  2. Hi Ruth,
    You know if readers are commenting on foods and aromas that you successfully reached them and they will want and expect that in future novels.

  3. Yep! In my next book the protagonist will be in a prison carved out of a mountain. Different smells needed for those scenes! But just as fascinating...

  4. Jillian,

    Thanks so much for all the great links in this post. Describing the smell of something is hard for me, so those links will be helpful.

    Christi Corbett

  5. Ruth,
    A prison carved out of a mountain. Hmm, the possibilities.

    Enjoy the links. I'm working hard to improve the scent of book three before it comes out. I think it's hard to describe smells too, but the more we practice the better we'll get.:)

  6. Great links for scent, Jillian. One of my favorite scents is vanilla and jasmine rising up from a heated body, or the spicy tang of Old Spice.

  7. Hey Catherine,
    That could be a high concept idea. Body heat meets Old Spice. :)