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Smell Your Way to Better Writing

Using the Olfactory Sense to Connect Readers to Your Story

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Fruit Loops hinged their identity on a character known as Toucan Sam. The tropical mascot would drift on aromatic that would guide him to his fruity scented cereal. Excited, he would the children in the commercial to do the same: “Follow your nose, it always knows,” he pined.

While it may seem like a silly jingle for a breakfast cereal, Toucan Sam is correct. Our olfactory sense is one of our most influential senses for memory recollection. It’s a sense that, if used properly and to it’s fullest, serves writers well.


Take a Whiff

Our sense of smell helps us to conjure up memories long remembered or forgotten. As a child, my grandmother wore a fragrance called Charlie.Whenever I smell it even today, I am instantly reminded of her and all of my memories linked to her. As writers, we have the ability to influence the reader not just through cleverly written words and sentences, but through emotional connections to familiar things. Think about the smells that engage your mind and as you write, consider how you can use the sense of smell to create a new reader experience through your writing.


Take 30 minutes out of your day and visit an aromatic place. It could be a coffee shop, a restaurant, a body of water, or a garden. For 10 minutes, take in everything that you smell. Intentionally breath deeply and enjoy the air. After your 10 minutes are up, for the next 20 minutes write down everything you smelled being careful to observe if there was any familiarity for you. Did the salty air of the ocean remind you of building sand castles with our brother as a child. Did the scent of fresh basil remind you of gardening in the spring with your mother. Can you begin to see how powerful this can be for your writing? Try it over the course of a week at different venues. Then consider how you can use this new tool to add strength to your writing by connecting your reader to the setting through their nose.

Question: What scents conjure up memories for you?