Writing Tip #7 Olfactory Memories

   In my last “Writing Tip” post, I asked where you might have thought, “This is where I belong; this is me.” I’ve had this happen to me a few times. Once was when I pulled up to my friend Cliett’s house in the Sandias for the first time. Another time it was at the Beaver Creek overlook in SW Colorado. In seeing these two places listed together I realize that the common denominator might be forests. To be more specific, the smell of pines.
   The sense of smell carries the strongest memories. If I catch a whiff of Wind Song perfume I’m immediately sent back to my dorm room freshman year at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin. Either my roommate or I spilled Wind Song, and the dresser scarf soaked it up. Our room smelled like Wind Song most of the term. When I think of our dorm room the color yellow fills my memory. The fall sunlight coming in our west-facing window must have been tinted by the yellow leaves of the tree outside our building. Maybe it was the mellowness of the light.
   Think about smells that immediately take you back. Journal about them. Then think about your story and characters. What scent will bring your character feelings of home? peacefulness? contentment? fear? anger? Let me know what you come up with.


About Penny

Penny Durant is the award-winning author of CHILD OF EL SALVADOR, narrative nonfiction set in the late 1980s in civil war-torn El Salvador and New Mexico. She has also published nine childrens books, and is a frequent workshop provider, novel writing teacher, editor, and critiquer. She has written two adult novels, "true life stories." Two of her pieces have been put to music by composer Michael Mauldin and performed in the region.
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One Response to Writing Tip #7 Olfactory Memories

  1. Jean Jenkins says:

    I’ve heard that the olfactory area in our brain is one of the most primitive areas. I wonder if that accounts for the way in which smells instantly transport us to another time and place. I like your suggestion to consider smells that affect characters you write about. Sounds like a good way to supply some back story.

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