Add Detail to Your Story: Sounds and Smells

Isn’t it strange how many noises we hear on a daily basis that we don’t pay any attention to until they aren’t there? What about the smells that wake us up or alert us to different things?

coffee, flickr

If you are used to waking up to the smell of coffee each morning, what would it mean if that smell was missing one morning? Could you have forgotten to set your coffee pot? Could an intruder that hates the smell of coffee have turned your machine off? Or could the intruder have turned it off so you would sleep longer?

Has complete quietness ever woke you up? Where is the low hum of your ceiling fan? Why don’t you hear the soothing sounds from your sound machine that caused you to dream you were on the beach? Did your electricity go out? Then why can you hear the sounds of a television show coming from the living room?

typical gas log fireplace, wikimedia commons

Sounds You Could Be Used to Hearing
1) the sound your fireplace makes when it kicks on
2) a key sliding into the lock and unlocking your door
3) the refrigerator door opening
4) your laptop or computer waking up
5) the hum of your ceiling fan
6) your phone alerting you to a new message or email
7) liquid pouring into a glass
8) a wine cork popping from a bottle of wine
9) water slowly dripping from a faucet
10) the electric hum from appliances
11) the creak of a rocking chair or porch swing

Writing Exercise
Take a sound—or two or three— that you are used to hearing, one that you don’t always notice because you are so used to it or because it is so unnoticeable. One day that sound isn’t there anymore. Why not?

autumn leaves around a gate, wikimedia commons

Outdoor Sounds
1) the crunch of autumn leaves as you step on them
2) wind whistling through the trees
3) acorns falling from the trees
4) If you’re at the pool or the beach, you would hear the splashing of water
5) If you’re in the city, you would hear the sounds of traffic, maybe even sirens from police cars or ambulances
6) You could hear a train going by or a plane flying overhead
7) screams if someone was being attacked. Of course, those same screams could be heard inside a house, apartment, or building
8) birds cawing or singing

Writing Exercise
An alien ship has landed. Since these aliens have lived in a totally silent world all their lives, they hate the noise of our world. They vow to rid this planet of its sounds. What do they do?

Animal Sounds
1) your cat scratching its claws against the side of the litter box
2) your cat knocking on the door or scratching at the window—One of my cats scratches on the window when he is ready to come inside; another one “knocks” on the door.

3) the snoring of a dog or cat
4) cats chasing a mouse through the attic
5) the purr of a cat—this could be anywhere from a soft contented purr to a purr that is as loud as a train.
6) The hacking sound a cat makes as it is getting ready to throw up all over the floor or a piece of furniture. No matter how out of shape you are, that sound will cause you to sprint to wherever it is coming from.
7) your dog or cat crunching its hard food or chewing on a bone or cow hoof
8) the dog scratching on his bed as he turns in circles to find a comfortable position
9) loud barking from your dog when someone pulls into your driveway or walks up to your house

fresh bread, pixabay

Indoor Smells
1) the rich smell of coffee floating through the house each morning as you wake up
2) cigarette smoke that lingers in the air—this smells good at first but after so long the smell is not so pleasant and fresh
3) bread baking in the bread machine
4) whatever food is being cooked—anything from a pot of chili to a roast in the pressure cooker to an omelet for breakfast
5) the fresh, outdoor smell of laundry that has dried on a clothesline

spring flowers, pixabay

Outdoor smells
1) petrichor, the fresh earthy smell of rain
2) cooked food smells floating out from restaurants
3) fumes from cars
4) wood smoke during the cool days of autumn
5) fragrant scent of flowers blooming
6) If close to a farm with cattle, sheep, goats, horses, etc., you would definitely smell manure

Each person has their own set of sounds they are used to hearing and scents they are used to being around. It is the same with your characters. What activities do you associate with each of the sounds and smells listed above? Make a list of the sounds that you are used to hearing on a daily or almost daily basis. Then do the same for the smells. See if you can come up with your own unique way of describing each one.

Army veterinarians with an ill tiger cub at a zoo in Iraq, wikimedia commons

Writing Exercise
What sounds and smells would be associated with each of the jobs below?

1) baker
2) newspaper delivery person
3) paramedic
4) hair stylist
5) secretary
6) policeman
7) truck driver
8) plumber
9) writer
10) electrician
11) veterinarian
12) dog catcher
13) baseball player
14) school teacher
15) computer technician

girl writing, etc.usf.edu

Writing Exercise
After you write down all of the sounds and smells you can think of that would be associated with each job, create a character for each job and write a story for each of them. Use some, if not all, the sounds and smells you came up with in each story.

If you wish, you can post your answers to any or all of the above exercises in the comments.

Recommended Articles:

Describing a Character by Using the Surroundings – Guest Post by Stephen Helmes

Writing: To Impress or to be Understood – Guest Post by Brian O’Hare

Creepy Things I Have Experienced

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *