Stinks and Smells–Remember Them in Your Writing

My house smells like Calvin Klein Euphoria. You’d think “Mmm, wow, yummy man smell,” but no. Small doses = yum. All over your house = headache. On our flight home from Utah, my husband’s aftershave spilled all over our checked bag. I washed all the clothes, but there’s still the how-the-heck-am-I-going-to-wash-this? stuff cooped up behind a closed bathroom door.

It got me thinking about other smells in my life. When I was in middle school, my family

lived in this crappy little house in middle-of-nowhere Texas. Almost the whole underside of the house was open for any old critter to crawl under there, and we got skunks…twice. Have you ever smelled that skunk smell while driving down a highway? You’re so glad when it finally passes and you can breathe fresh air again. Ok. Now imagine that in your house. For days. And imagine you’re 13 years old, not all that popular in the first place, and you have to go to school smelling like skunk.

I went to a school that had outdoor hallways, so our lockers were inside the classrooms. People would often dump their backpacks on the floor in a corner by the lockers, since carrying your books was SO much cooler anyway. My backpack–which had been on the floor in my bedroom at the time of the skunk attack–smelled the worst, so I left it in the morning. When I got to my afternoon science class in that very same room, I was mortified to find that the entire room smelled like skunk. Someone decided to investigate, discovered my backpack, and announced–with a disgusted look on her face–that the smell was coming from my bag. I didn’t claim it, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out whose it was. Death seemed a better alternative to ever coming back to that school again.

Another smelly situation I found myself in was in college. One of my roommates moved out over the Christmas break and the other three of us went home for the holiday. The roommate who moved out had all the utilities in her name. When she moved, she cancelled them all. We didn’t know. So we came back to a smelly surprise. My roommate Holly was the first to come back and found all the meat and everything in the freezer thawed out and dripping down into the fridge. A couple days later, when my other roommate and I came home, the apartment still smelled like rotting meat. (And in fact, it kept smelling that way for a week or more until I discovered a dripping pan underneath the fridge with congealed meat juices sitting in it. Gag.) I still have trouble handling raw meat.

Our sense of smell is often forgotten when we’re writing, but it can have a huge impact. Whether it be stinky or oh-my-heavens-yum, including all of our senses can make our writing come alive and put our readers into our setting.

Ok, now I’m curious…Any smellorific stories from your lives? Or good ones from books?

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About Karen Krueger

I write for teens when I'm not chasing after two cute kids. I love to sing and eat cereal (though not at the same time), and I most certainly am not a vampire because I'm addicted to sunshine.
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