The Scent of a Story
“I love the smell of napalm in the morning.” Lt. Col. Kilgore, Apocalypse Now.
I don’t know what napalm smells like and I’m pretty sure if I smelled it, I would run in the other direction, but there’s a reason this is a famous movie quote. The sense of smell is not only one of the largest memory triggers, but a smell can transport you in a place faster than any airline flight.
I’ve been writing a lot about travel lately, putting my characters in exotic locales: a thatched hut in Bali, a muddy river in Thailand, a sun-soaked piazza in Italy, and a dusty carnival midway in the American Southwest. Images, dialogue, and description are all important, but I have a hard time remembering to insert smells into my scenes. Which is kind of weird, since there’s nothing I notice more than how something smells.
In Asia it was the fumes from motor scooters, cigarette smoke, and the sweet aroma of plumeria that tells me I’m no longer home. In Los Angeles it’s the smell of the ocean mixed with smog and bougainvillea.
Today is a tough day to write about scents because I have this nasty head cold, part 2 (it feels like a repeat of something that kicked my ass back in early January) and so as hard as I try to smell, nothing is coming through. It makes me wonder if Wasabi, the best sniffer in the house, ever has this problem.