By: Marilyn Baron
Touch. Sight. Smell. Taste. Sound. The five senses. But what if you don’t have all five senses? Would that place limits on your writing? I think so. I was born without a sense of smell, a trait I inherited from my grandmother. I think that puts me at a disadvantage. In writing workshops I learned the importance of capturing all of the five senses. How can my writing describe the hero’s “pungent aftershave,” or the fact that the heroine “carries the scent of cinnamon,” when I have no personal experience in that area?
Since I never had a sense of smell, I don’t miss it. Although I can’t smell roses, I love the way they look and the way they make me feel. I grow roses in my backyard – the New Dawn variety – which cross the barest hint of white with a blush of pink. They have spread up my Weeping Yaupon tree, which I now call my rose tree. I can’t smell food, but I love to eat. I think I have a sense of taste but perhaps it’s deficient and I don’t even realize it.
Not having a sense of smell has its advantages. I can’t smell stinking garbage or dirty diapers. I also can’t smell smoke. Once, I was in my kitchen cooking dinner, engrossed in a TV program I was watching through the wooden partition that separated the kitchen on the upper level from the downstairs den, when my husband came running down the stairs screaming, “The house is on fire.” I was in the middle of a room thick with black smoke and I never even knew it.
When I read the way other writers describe the way a character smells, I’m amazed and that’s when I know I am missing something. So I have to try harder and I’m never certain if my words are ringing true. To compensate for my missing sense of smell, I have developed a keen sixth sense about what is about to happen that has turned out to be pretty reliable.
I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts about the importance of the five senses in your writing.