Scent and Sound and So-on

So I’m afraid I still don’t have any writerly news to offer. I do believe that this whole process will teach me patience and teach me to calm down. Waiting for something is stressful and distracting, which means I need to learn the discipline of putting that in-between time to better use and not worry so much!
Anyhow, I still wanted to post something writing related, so I thought I’d talk about smells. My favorite.
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So, once upon a time, I sent part of my manuscript to my dear friend and critique partner. She sent it back saying a certain scene needed more description of the people and the sounds. I looked at the passage in question and was somewhat confused. To me, the passage seemed bursting with enough description to spill right over.
We soon figured out the discrepancy. All I had done was describe the smells of the place. Smell after smell after smell. In my mind, the specific smells conjured up all possible sights and sounds. If I smell manure, then there must be animals, if I smell tea, people are drinking it, if I smell lye, someone is scrubbing their laundry in the street, and if I smell lavender, fancy ladies are walking by, doused in it.
Not so for my friend, for whom smell is not a helpful indicator of what is going on. She is more attuned to sounds and detailed physical descriptions of people and structures etcetera. In fact, through further conversation, we realized that we were quite hilariously on opposite ends of the scent spectrum.
I have a very keen sense of smell. My oldest sister is always saying “that nose of yours!” whenever I pick something out that she can’t smell. My husband laughs at me when we are walking and I stop and sniff the air like a wolfhound, trying to decipher all the various scents in the air. There’s something so delicious about smells. I feel that I could almost eat them. I hardly ever buy candles, but I could walk into a candle store and just SMELL EVERYTHING.
But my friend told me that she cannot smell very many things at all…so much so that it sort of flattens the taste of many foods for her. I was shocked. I could not imagine! I still cannot! We had many conversations about this, but the conclusion was that I described almost exclusively via smell, which was the exact opposite of her how she was wont to describe things (texture, sound).
It also meant that the intensity and vividness that I felt in the midst of all those smells was not to be expected in others. It all fell flat for her because it wasn’t rounded out by things that could conjure vividness in her mind. It would be as if I was speaking rapturously of a childhood memory that but a few people had ever experienced without giving any other helpful notes for all those who had not.
This meant that I needed to diversify my descriptions so as to speak to all those who DON’T go around smelling their spice cabinet or stop to sniff the air smack-dab in the middle of a conversation.
Of course, smell is still my favorite, and I probably still overuse it. But this was an eye-opening experience for me, for which I am extremely grateful!
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