Tag: memory

The Forgotten Sense

“Use the five senses,” is familiar advice to all writers. Just as news reporters use the 5 W’s — who, what, where, when, and why to check their stories, fiction writers can use sight, sound, smell, taste and touch to enhance the emotional impact of their tales.

 

Nothing triggers memory like a smell. I have two four-month old kittens. They were born in the country and at only eight weeks of age they related to smell. We had transported them 2500 miles, from the prairies to the coast, but when the scent of new-mown hay wafted through an open window, they stopped playing and sat up as tall as they could, their little noses twitching mightily as they inhaled the aroma of home.

Psychiatrists will tell you that smell can trigger forgotten memories, and stir the emotions. The perfume industry is built on that premise. A simple fragrance won’t make people spend hundreds of dollars on an ounce of liquid, but the emotions that fragrance elicits, will pry open the  purse.

Because scent has such a powerful effect on the emotions, good writers use that correlation not only to describe a scene but illuminate characters and draw the reader into an emotional  connection with the protagonist of the story.

Out on my bicycle I gloried in the number of summer smells I encountered on my ride–lavender, roses, ripe blackberries, fecund soil, dusty hay,  a horse barn . . . I inhaled them all with a smile to my face and joy to my heart.  I should be a natural when it comes to using scents in my novels. Sadly, while I enjoy the fragrance of my garden, I’m not good at incorporating the fifth sense into my writing.

In my wip I reference the smell of clean mountain air — a lost opportunity. Clean mountain air is generic. If I said, “clean mountain air filled her lungs, driving out the stench of the immigrant ship, erasing the odor of poverty and desperation” I’d have done a better job of placing the reader in the story and giving her a reason to root for the heroine.

There are many literary works devoted to smell, but I thought I’d investigate the romance genre for tips on how to include the forgotten sense in my writing.

“His face and eyelids were swollen and he was beginning to stink like rotten meat.” The Silver Lining by Maggie Osborne. Maggie Osborne is a favourite of mine, even though she is no longer writing. Notice the words here– “stink” “rotten–deeply evocative. She could have said “smelled bad,” and the impact would have been lost.

“When I pull loose wrap off the top of the bottle and  stick my nose in, it is agreeably, deeply sour.” How to Bake a Perfect Life, by Barbara Samuel. I knew I’d find examples of cooking smells in Barbara Samuel’s work. What I like about this example is the paradox of “agreeable” and “sour.” Most of us consider sour an unpleasant odor, not an agreeable one. However, it you are making sourdough starter, the concept changes.

“The scent of fresh blood on an undercurrent of primeval decay choked Elodie Rousseau, nearly bringing her to her knees.” Choosing Bravery by Jacqui Nelson.  Jacqui writes historical westerns. Aromas can conjure up the old west in a few words. The “scent of fresh blood” is a generic phrase, but “primeval decay” and “choked” lift this sentence from ordinary to memorable.

I’m now off to scour my work-in-progress for missed opportunities to use the power of scent in my story.

How about you? Any favourite “smelly” writing examples you’d like to share?

 

 

 

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Nostalgia

What is it about a walk down memory lane that is so appealing and so sad?  Why do we keep taking that well-worn path?   Christmas time seems to pull us relentlessly into the world of memories, whether they be happy  or not.  A Christmas tree conjures other Christmases, the ones when we received our heart’s delight and the ones when we were disappointed.   Like it or not, we travel down that road to the past, lit with the smiles of loved ones no longer with us.  A road defined by school days, old friends, our first boss, our first kiss, our first love, our first loss.  Even when we know what trap lies around the next corner, we travel on.  Nostalgia has us in its grip.

I just finished a book, They Left Us Everything, by Plum Johnson, that does nostalgia in spades.  It is a memoir of her family and the house they grew up in.  When her mother dies, the property is to be sold.

Plum’s parents bought the place when they came home from WWII.  Her father had been in Hong Kong.  Her mother served with the Red Cross.  When they moved to a house on the shores of Lake Ontario, they came with nothing.  In the over fifty years they lived there, they disposed of nothing.  Plum must sort and catalogue and dispose of twenty three rooms stuffed with family history.   The task is overwhelming and takes the author down many rabbit holes of memory and mystery.  She discovers books and letters she’d never seen before.  She discovers bags and bags and bags of garbage — all those broken bits of china, old Christmas ornaments, forgotten school essays, grade two report cards, old hats, old shoes, old jewellery — things that hold memories, things dear to her heart, but things that have no place in her grown up life.    A whiff of perfume and the author is a child again, kneeling at the top of the stairs to watch her glamourous parents heading out for an evening of dancing.   The slam of the garden gate recalls the endless flow of waifs and strays that sheltered in the big, rambling family home.   A book on sailing conjures Saturday mornings when she and her brothers and father took out their little sailboat.  Joy, anger, guilt, love, grief, all crowd in with each opened drawer.

The task of emptying the house and selling it, was supposed to take six weeks.  It took sixteen months.

I enjoyed the book.  Many of the author’s experiences mirrored my own family life.  But, like the author, those memories dragged me into sunny meadows and rainy afternoons that filled my heart with love for the home and family that was mine — and made me ache with loss. In the end, They Left us Everything, is really a book about grief.  Read  at your own risk.

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