What's That Smell? - writercize #83

A writer's job is to communicate all five senses using only words.  Sound like a challenge?  It should.

Really, books don't smell.  At least rarely as the space they describe, unless it's an old book written about old books in an old library and the reader is reading it the old-fashioned way without some fancy e-reader.  They don't play a soundtrack or give you the voices of the dialogue or taste like the gumbo or coffee or spaghetti they might describe.  They don't splash pictures in front of you, unless it's of the children's or comic book variety.  You can't close your eyes and touch the world that the writer sees in the mind's eye, feel the main character's hands and nose, run into their front door, swing in the trees.  And speaking of the mind's eye, as if describing the five senses of sight, sound, taste, touch and smell weren't challenging enough, the sixth sense of intuition generally gets thrown into a good book as well. 

It's exhausting just to think about, let alone throw a story and some characters at.  So, today I'm tossing the characters, ignoring the story, letting five of those six senses fall by the wayside (well, somewhat) and focusing on smell.

Go ahead, breathe deep.  Smell your surroundings.  

And when you are deep in a story, this exercise will help you and your character breathe in the scent as well.  Knowing when to use the nasal sense to describe the putrid smell of day-old garbage, the musty scent of a humid basement in the thundering months of summer or the sweet lingering perfume of a girl on a shirt after a boy's first kiss will take you far in describing your scene.

Now, snap out of your own surrounding and breathe in the prompt below.

writing exercise:  It is morning; you turn the corner and catch a whiff of the bakery down the street.  Do you enter?  What does it bake?  What does it smell like?  Describe the setting.  (Again, this is not about the story or the character; this is a study on smell.)

Click "read more" for writercizer sample response.  Truth be told, I'm not a big bakery girl, but I hope I can fake it enough to make you believe I am.  ;)
writercizer response:

I open the front door and hardly hear the ding of the bell over the orgasmic rush of heavenly baked goodness that flies at me, swirls around my entire body and twists and twirls right into my nostrils.  Cinnamon.  Cream.  Chocolate, lemons, almonds.  Mmm, perfectly crispy cheese mixed with a spicy touch of jalapeno, ready to dance in my mouth.  The fresh floury morning scent of round loaves of freshly baked bread.  Donuts and cookies.  Cakes.  Olive and rosemary-clad focaccia.  The promise of a sizzling panini, just burnt in perfect little parallel lines, with a bit of the meatiness of a good cut of salami, a view of what's to come still dancing around from yesterday's lunch and dinner rush.  Something else.  Something rich.  Dark, bitter, cocoa-flavored coffee, dripping away, just begging to fill a cup and warm a belly.  Ahh.  This is what makes waking up so worth it.


  1. OMG what have you done to my taste buds?! I'm feeling ravenous for a sweet, buttery, baked good. Alana, this is post is so descriptive, I can almost smell them all.

  2. Oh I am so there--through your words!! Man I need a bakery or something..I'm starving now :) Well done!! Cheers, Jenn

  3. Great exercise, it's easy when writing to concentrate only on the visual and not describe the other senses.

  4. Gteat description of all the different smells. My favourite is the smell of freshly baked bread.

  5. Saw your post on Misha's blog and had to come and check your blog out! I'm a new follower. :)

  6. Hopped over from Misha's blog. I agree! It's amazing how much more vivid and real we can make our passages by appealing to all the senses!

    Nice to meet you! :)

  7. YUM YOU DID IT!!!!!!!!!!!! wow great visual an i actually smelled!!!!!!! hehe

    hey...yes they do...books smell..i LOVE the smell of NEW BOOKS!!!!!! HEHE

  8. My stomach savoured the sweet aroma of freshly baked pastries as if trying to hold in the smell and draw out the nourishment as I turned the bakery corner. It gurgled encouragement as my gaze fell on the inviting array of buns and cakes tempting me from the bright window display. My mouth already imagined their crumbly, flaky melt-in-the mouth taste.
    Before I knew what I was doing I'd enetred through the door, opened my purse and placed the coins on the counter...

  9. You nailed it! There is nothing that smells quite like a bakery. :O)

  10. LOL @ Alma. And butter - how could I forget the butter?!? ;)

    Pk and Trisha - thanks for hopping over! Nice to meet you too. I'll be sure you check you out and thanks for following - I'd love to see your input with the exercises!

    Madeleine - Yum! Those silly coins jumping right out of the purse. Hehe.

    Thanks to all you others who I didn't address individually. You all rock for commenting and I appreciate it!!


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