This probably goes without saying, but it gets hot in Arizona. Really hot. Sizzle-eggs-on-the-sidewalk hot. Naturally, when it’s hot, everyone who can has their A/C on….in cars, trucks, and homes. One of the rather unpleasant side effects of A/C is the stale air you breathe. You don’t realize it’s stale, though, because you’re so obsessed with how HOT it is.
Then fall comes. The air grows cooler and more comfortable. I actually need a sweater in the mornings (it was 68 last week — positively chilly for Phoenix). I’ve stopped using the A/C in the car all the time, opting for fresh air from open windows, and I was completely taken aback at what I’d been missing all summer…
Believe it or not, there’s a lot of agriculture that goes on near me. Arizona has an extensive system of canals and aqueducts that deliver water pretty much anywhere. Around my house are fields of alfalfa and corn, dairy farms, and “farmettes” with perhaps some goats, chickens, horses, or a lone steer.
As I was driving by a corn field yesterday, I could smell the corn. It smelled like the big barrels of unshucked corn you see at the grocery store, their golden tassels peeking from behind their green skin, but it reminded me of my childhood, growing up behind a cornfield in rural Maryland.
I can also smell the dairy farm a few miles away. Perhaps not as nice as the corn, but still, it reminds me of what I’ve been missing. It also reminds me of my days in college at Clemson in South Carolina, and driving with friends past Dover Downs farm on the way to Wal-Mart in nearby Anderson, SC.
All this smelling has brought to mind what’s missing from my story…the ‘ol olfactory. Scent is a trigger for thoughts, feelings, and memories, and they can be an important tool for a writer. I’ve made a commitment to myself to go through each scene and try to put in one or two smells…something each character would notice, whether it’s the smell of old books (Susannah’s favorite) or floral perfume (Nate’s favorite). I need to consider street smells, sweat smells (I read in a book recently the “bitter smell from her armpit” and I spent a good 10 minutes thinking about that and how accurate it was!), food smells, ocean smells, and animal smells. What I have to do, at its essence, is put myself in the scene, close my eyes, and think about what my character’s noses would encounter, then figure out the importance of that smell to them.
I’m reading two books right now, both fiction, and both authors do a very good job of including smells into their settings. It’s made me realize how important it is, both to setting as well as character perception and feeling.
Think about a scene you’re working on right now…are you including things your characters might smell? If so, what are they? If not, what should you add?