One of the hardest things at times to describe in a novel is the sense of taste and smell. They are probably the least mentioned for that very reason. We may say it was a delicious meal of roast, mashed potatoes, and green beans. Or the stench was overwhelming in the closed-off room. We leave a lot to the reader’s imagination. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We all have our ideas of what that roast tasted like and what constitutes a rank smell.
We better serve our readers when we can create the smell on the page. It helps them go deeper into our stories. Let’s take these two examples and see what we can do. (When I say we, I am expecting some of you to add your own creation in the comments.)
The meal mentioned above seems pretty common, and delicious is a relative term. I do not find anything delicious about Jalapeno peppers so if they were in the mash potatoes, I would disagree 😊. If the meal is essential to creating your story world or to revealing something about your characters, you need more than delicious.
What does this delicious roast taste like? Taste includes texture.
The Dr. Pepper marinate gave the melt-in-your-mouth pork roast a touch of sweetness. Betty’s mash potatoes reminded Leo of Ma’s home cooking, just a few lumps, and extra pepper. He’d never had green beans laced with bits of bacon, but the flavor made him scoop out another serving. Betty’s food erased the last ten years of loneliness with a meal laced with memories of his childhood.
Okay, not great but you get the point. Texture was added with lumpy potatoes. For Leo that made them delicious because his mother’s always had lumps. Can you see how I tried to give you a bit about Betty’s character? She doesn’t cook with wine, rather soft drinks. Cooking is her love language for sure.
How would you show the reader the delicious meal? Add it to the comments.
Let’s look at the smell reference now.
The overwhelming stench in a room could be anything from stinky shoes to a corpse. The sense of smell is often described with similes.
Jeffrey’s socks would stand like sentinels after he’d worn them for two weeks. Mother used tongs to capture the pair and marched the offending objects to the trash. Her other hand covered her mouth while she made retching noises. My brother swore his favorite football team did better if he never changed his socks. And I swore if I had to sleep one more night breathing in the scent of raw sewer I would toss his bed out the window with him in it.
Again not great, but you get my point. Can you smell the socks?
Now it’s your turn to paint a scene to describe an overwhelming stench coming from a closed-off room.
We don’t want to fall into purple prose, overwriting descriptions. There are moments where the senses of taste and smell are important in crafting your story. If you understand your character and your setting, then you’ll know which of the five senses will best show the scene to the reader.
In the taste example, we see Leo as a lonely man who loved his childhood. And as I said it appears Betty’s love language is cooking. These could be the beginning of a romantic connection or a mother-son relationship. Food would play a big part in this story no matter what genre it is because I have given it as a connection between these characters.
In the smell example, Jeffrey is superstitious and oblivious to the grief it is causing his family. His long-suffering brother is at his wits’ end. I’d like to know what other ways these brothers are different. Is he the long-suffering younger brother or the patient older brother? This appears to be a smell example for the moment, but in a YA book stinky feet could be referenced throughout the story.
Okay, share your rewrites with me in the comments or post a favorite sensory description from a favorite book or a novel you’ve written.
I’d love to see your examples and it’s a great way to wake up your brain for your writing projects.
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