Friday, December 28, 2012

Unintentional stroke of genius

I was trying to figure out how to describe a smell the other day. In my WIP, I mean. In real life, I say things like, "It smells yummy," or "It smells gross." In writing I try to be more . . . artful.

Anyway, smells are hard to do justice to in writing. And they matter. You know that whole thing about how smell is the sense most closely connected to memory? Imagine successfully triggering that as a writer. Dang.

So. The smell. My main character loves the smell of old books just like I do, coincidentally. And I was trying to explain why, but to show it, not tell it. I wrote this from my MC's point-of-view as I toyed around with a new opening:

The dust from books smells different than any other kind of dust, somehow rich but not quite sweet. Vanilla. Book dust smells like regular dust with a hint of vanilla.

Guess what. I'M TOTALLY RIGHT. So says Mental Floss right here, and I quote:  

“A combination of grassy notes with a tang of acids and a hint of vanilla over an underlying mustiness” is how an international team of chemists describes the unique odor of old books in a study. 

Did you see that? VANILLA.

Nailed it!


  1. Oh my gosh, good call on that one :)

  2. Way to go! I knew I loved the smell of old books. Now I know why. (Actually, for that matter, new books smell pretty good, too, but in a different way.)

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  4. Woohoo! You hit on the perfect description! Honestly, the only word I can think of to describe the smell of books is "heavenly" and I just don't think that hits the show-don't-tell notes readers are looking for. :-D



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