The sense of smell can be a bit tricky when thinking about your setting. Many of us tend to ignore smells unless they are particularly bad. For instance, the smell of rotting garbage may alert your character to the fact that today is Trash Day – time to drop that bag off at the curb! An unusually unpleasant smell may set your character off in search of its source. Is it a dead body, or just a horrendous stench coming from the kitchen?
Strong smells usually prompt characters to take action, whether that involves fleeing or fighting the unnatural odor. But, of course, you can also include pleasant smells in your settings!
What kinds of scents would your character be exposed to? In a café, for instance, you might smell freshly ground coffee, chocolate, cinnamon. There might be an aroma of freshly baked bread or other tasty treats. You might also smell cleaning products, if there’s been a spill that the employees have recently cleaned up: bleach, pine-scented cleaners, or orange blossoms, perhaps?
If your character is outdoors, think about the kinds of natural smells that might be present. Grass, hay, different kinds of flowers… maybe even the scent of rain, or the sea? In the winter, scents can also be masked by snow, or by the fact that characters may have colds that make it difficult for them to breathe – much less smell.
Think about obstacles to a character’s sense of smell, too. Perhaps they’re wearing nose plugs, or have drenched themselves in perfume or cologne, and can’t small anything else.
If you’re having trouble thinking of interesting scents, you can always take a quick field trip to the nearest perfume counter to ask the employees about their wares. Perfumes usually offer different scents seasonally, so you might ask them about their latest notes, or dive into those from seasons past. If you’ve got a favorite scent, ask them for similar suggestions so you can craft your character’s signature eau de toilette.
Sniff out some of the scents in your scenes, and keep developing those layers!
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