Scents and Scents’ Abilities: Introducing Smells into Stories

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Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days is designed to shape a not-yet submitted, rejected, or self-published manuscript with low ratings into a book that shines. The method can also be a guiding resource for writers starting a manuscript. See details below.

Writers know how important it is that their characters use their five senses in stories. Today we’ll focus on scents and ways to use them.

Associate Certain Scents with Certain Abilities

Here are common associations between scents and a person’s well-being. In your stories, perhaps you could show your character reacting to scents in these ways.

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  • Fruit scents assist in calming anxiety. Lemon to increase clarity and apple for migraines. As Emily made lemonade from freshly squeezed lemons, Arthur drew in the citrus scent. His headache eased and a new idea struck him for the machine he’d invented.
  • Lavender’s fragrance is associated with easing emotional stress and insomnia. A lavender scent drifted through Brad’s open window. He ceased his tossing and his eyelids drooped. Oh, for blessed sleep …
  • Cinnamon is known for stimulating the brain, fighting mental fatigue, and increasing memory and attention span. Carly sifted cinnamon spice over each of ten pots containing simmering apples. Her nose filled with the cinnamon scent. As she stirred the cinnamon into the apple mixture, she recalled the complicated directions for Mother’s quilt pattern.
  • Peppermint is thought to stimulate the mind and increase concentration. Professor Eichmann passed peppermint candies to the students at the table. As the students sucked the candies, peppermint scent permeated the air, and the brainstorming session succeeded in solving the professor’s challenge. 
  • Jasmine is associated with boosting confidence and easing depression. Courtney persuaded Mother to sit in the garden near the Jasmine shrubs. “Mother, let’s breath in the lovely scents of the garden.” Mother obeyed. “Dearest, I love the scent of Jasmine. This is the most hopeful I’ve felt in days.”.

Fragrance Families

Spice up your stories with scents from different fragrance families:

  • Floral – flowers and bouquets
  • Chemical – ammonia and glass cleaners
  • Woody – pine and sandalwood
  • Fruity – citrus and apples
  • Exotic – ambergris and vanilla
  • Sweet – chocolate and caramel
  • Clean – soap and shampoo
  • Nutty – peanut butter and almond
  • Spices – nutmeg and cinnamon
  • Minty – peppermint and wintergreen
  • Strong – burning rubber and garlic breath
  • Decayed – roadkill and sour milk

Synonyms for Smells

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  • Odor
  • Scent
  • Fragrance
  • Smell
  • Aroma
  • Perfume
  • Bouquet
  • Stink
  • Stench
  • Whiff

How Scents Arrive

  • Cooking, baking, searing, frying, roasting
  • Burning, lighting up, bug zapping, heat radiation
  • Rotting, fermenting, souring
  • Digging, fertilizing, spraying
  • Sweating, breathing, festering
  • Bathing, grooming, powdering
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Verbs to Use with Smells

  • Wafted
  • Intruded
  • Floated
  • Hinted
  • Gave off
  • Blew
  • Hovered
  • Hung
  • Lifted
  • Drifted

Can you add to any of the above lists?

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Zoe McCarthy’s book, Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days, is a fresh and innovative refocusing of your novel or novella. Through a few simple—and fun—steps, Zoe helps writers take their not-ready-for-publication and/or rejected manuscripts to a spit-polish finish. Writing is hard work, yes, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. —Eva Marie Everson, best-selling and multiple award-winning author, conference director, president of Word Weavers International, Inc.

If you want to increase your chance of hearing yes instead of sorry or not a fit for our list at this time, this book is for you. If you want to develop stronger story plots with characters that are hard to put down, this book is for you. Through McCarthy’s checklists and helpful exercises and corresponding examples, you will learn how to raise the tension, hone your voice, and polish your manuscript. I need this book for my clients and the many conferees I meet at writer’s conferences around the country. Thank you, Zoe. A huge, #thumbsup, for Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days.  —Diana L. Flegal, literary agent, and freelance editor

Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript is a self-editing encyclopedia! Each chapter sets up the targeted technique, examples show what to look for in your manuscript, then proven actions are provided to take your writing to the next level. Whether you are a seasoned writer or a newbie, you need this book! —Sally Shupe, freelance editor, aspiring author

McCarthy crafted an amazing self-help book that will strengthen any writer, whether new or seasoned, with guidance and self-evaluation tools. —Erin Unger, author of Practicing Murder, releasing in 2019

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If Your Hero Doesn’t Smell, You May Have a Senseless Novel

“There are three schoolmasters for everybody that will employ them – the senses, intelligent companions, and books.”  — Henry Ward Beecher.

file0002012084757.jpgDo your hero and heroine seldom smell scents, taste flavors, hear sounds, see settings, or touch people and things? If so, you risk readers feeling like your characters live in a vacuum.

As a writer, I know I’m to connect my characters to their surroundings through their God given senses. BUT, I’ve learned there’s an art to it.


  • Don’t dump odors, tastes, sounds, sights, and touches into your scenes.
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  • Weave the five senses into the context of the surroundings and actions of the scene.
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Let’s look at what I mean through examples.

Dumped Aroma

As they walked through the park, Mark turned to Sandy. “Why didn’t you support me when I told the police I was with you.”

“Because I thought they’d say all wives say that.” Was that chocolate she smelled?

“Well, I wish my wife had told the truth and said I was with her.”

The chocolate scent drops in from nowhere and jars readers from the conversation.

Crafted Scent

jmm_0629.jpg“Kenn had the group laughing as they settled down, but it was the sweet haze of Christy’s lavender perfume that finally brought him down into the circle, right beside her, calm and eager.” —Hearts Crossing Ranch by Tanya Hanson

The scent of Christy’s perfume is integral to the action here, drawing Kenn to sit near her.

file000665724379.jpgCrafted Sight and Touch

“Our kickstands flew up, and we rode down Highway 129 wrapped in the beauty of a cotton-candy pink sunset. It was cooling-off time in the mountains and instead of sweltering, we stayed comfortable in our jackets and helmets.” —The Pastor’s Wife Wears Biker Boots by Karla Akins

Can you see the sunset? Though we aren’t shown what’s happening to their skin, I can imagine the coolness on their faces and how comfortably warm their skin is inside their jackets.

Crafted Sound and Sight

file3091274380502.jpg“Jack stood at the admitting desk, dressed in coat and tie even at this awful time of morning, tapping his foot in a heavy rhythm, glancing first at his watch then at the clock on the wall then back to his watch. Tap, tap, tap. Glance. Tap.” —The Rising by Lynn Chandler Willis

We learn much about Detective Ellie Saunder’s supervisor from what  Ellie sees and hears. His coat and tie are his personal uniform, and that he’s impatient she’s late.

Crafted Touch

“Air-conditioning kissed her overheated skin while she let the door slam behind her.” —Mended Heart by Mary Manners

This sense of touch went well with the heated encounter she’d just had with the hero in the hot stairwell.

Senses can be metaphorical.

terka.jpgCrafted Taste

“Brody clamped his lips. Deserved or not, he would not have taken those words from any other man. He swallowed them along with the bitter taste of his pride. For Megan.” —Masquerade Marriage by Anne Greene

I can see Brody’s lips curl as if he’s bitten into a lemon.


  • Weave the five senses into the context of the surroundings and actions of the scene.
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What example of connecting readers to their surroundings through the five senses have you enjoyed?