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

by | Writing | 4 comments

“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.
    click to tweet


  • Weave the five senses into the context of the surroundings and actions of the scene.
    click to tweet

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.
    click to tweet

What example of connecting readers to their surroundings through the five senses have you enjoyed?

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  1. LoRee Peery

    Great examples, Zoe. Nicely done.

  2. Tanya

    Great post, Zoe and I love the tweetables! I did just that!

  3. Zoe M. McCarthy

    Thanks, LoRee and Tanya. I had fun going through Pelican Book Group books looking for examples.

  4. Jane Foard Thompson

    The visual is the most natural sense for me to use, but I have to constantly remind myself to bring in the other senses. (It’s good to have a critique partner who reminds you!) The WOP I’m polishing right now is historical, in a time and place that has little documentation to draw from in terms of specific flora and fauna. I know the modern area, so I tiptoe through, working to be correct historically, but needing specifics for the sense-setting.

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