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How does it smell?

I have a great Editor. I know this for a fact because I built her from scratch. I’m not saying that’s the best or only way to get a great Editor, but it’s the path I took. She’s taught me a lot of things that she learned in college. Things like, “Show me, don’t tell me!” and “How did that make her feel?” But the one that always sticks with me is, “How does it smell?”

I get so focused on the action of the story, you see? They ran here! They did that! Crap – monsters! Which is fun, but as she points out to me, it could be better. Take a beat, step back, think about what’s going on. Observe. What do the characters see? Hear? Smell?

From, “Something Twisted”

It felt stuffy and close inside after the cool, spring air outside. Michelle’s mom smoked, and there were stinky, overflowing ashtrays on every surface. The smoke smell seemed to puff up at me from every step I took on the brown shag carpet. The house was about the same size as mine, but it felt small, as crowded as it was with bodies.

The kitchen was full of kids laughing and drinking. We scooted past them and down the hallway where we joined the line for the bathroom. The door swung open, two girls exited and two more entered wafting alternating layers of perfume, spilled beer, and hairspray through the hallway atmosphere. I sneezed and imagined the hole in the Ozone layer above us widening perceptibly.

Careful observation does many things for your writing. It makes your words more real, more tactile. It draws your reader into the scene better than any explanation can. It fills the scene – without the sights and sounds and smells, the scene is flat, like an empty space suit.

But that’s not all it does. It changes your whole world. Left to my own devices, I’d scuttle through my day, head down, doing all the things. Rushing headfirst from one deadline to the next. But I don’t always, because lucky for me, I have a great Editor.

She reminds me to pause and look around -- to taste the peppermint in my tea, to feel the difference between the bounce of my new keyboard and of the clunky clank of my old one, to listen to the lyrics, not just the tune, to stand squarely in the sunbeam that’s flowing silently through the window and puddling on the threadbare carpet, and to look out at the beautiful orange leaves whispering their autumn musings to the blue, blue sky.

To ask myself, how does it smell?

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