Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Scent of Lilacs and a Lesson in Incorporating the Senses Into Your Writing

Back in April 2010, I wrote a blog post about lilacs and how when each spring their fragrance takes me back to a warm day, likely in May. Miss Thomas, my fourth grade teacher, had raised the windows wide open in our nearly half-century-old classroom to let in some air. Air that was unusually heavy with humidity for so early in Wisconsin. Those kind of days usually didn't kick in until the hot days of July and August.

Lilacs I picked yesterday on my walk.
The lilacs were in full bloom and many of us kids would pick huge purple bouquets of the fragrant blooms and bring them to our beloved teacher. Fast running out of glass vases, she usually resorted to filling whatever she could find--old coffee cans or empty jars--to hold the flowers.

In the near-tropical air that long-ago day, their heavy fragrance seemed even more pronounced, and I sat at my desk, inhaling the scent and reveling in the heady feeling that came over me. Yesterday while out for my walk, I stopped and picked some lilacs, and right now I'm inhaling the scent and for one brief moment I'm transported back to Central School in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.

It's interesting how a sense of smell can transport one back to another time in our lives--sometimes pleasant and sometimes not-so-pleasant.

Maybe it's time to revisit that article I wrote back in 2010 about incorporating the senses into our writing, particularly the sense of smell. The book I refer to in the piece is Love Finds You in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin that just released last month, and the scent of lilacs is mentioned in its pages!

April 30, 2010

Yesterday seemed more like March than April in Chicagoland. The southern winds kicked up a lot of debris and flower petals fell from the crab apple trees like a pink and white blizzard.

But one thing I noticed most of all was the scent of lilacs.

I pass a lilac bush on my walk each day, and I always stop to smell the flowers because in a few day's time, that wonderful scent will be gone until next year.

That got me to thinking how in my stories I need to make sure I incorporate as many of the five senses as possible. My current project takes place during spring in my hometown, and I became excited as I realized the novel concludes during May. I'll be able to bring my very precious memory of springtime in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin to the story.

No matter what the season your stories take place, be sure to bring in as many of the five senses as possible. The smell of a burning fireplace as your character walks outside on a cold winter's night. In summer, the scent of suntan oil on a hot beach. When I think of fall, the aroma of pumpkin pie baking in the oven conjures of memories of Thanksgivings past. Adding the senses to your story deepens your story and draws the reader closer. If you haven't done so already, be sure to work in smell, touch, hearing, tasting and sight before you turn in that final draft.

Meanwhile, I'd better run outside for one more sniff before the lilacs disappear till next year!


Linda Glaz said...

So important to incorporate the senses. Especially the sense of smell.
Great post, Pam!

Diane Dean White said...

Pam, I love your hometown, it reminds me of the main street in mine. Also, you're so right on about lilacs...we don't have them in FL, and every spring I think of those blooms from the years our children were at home and we had dark purple, light and white lilacs all across the side of our yard. It made hanging the clothes so enjoyable. Our son would pick them and bring in a wonderful spray. I think they're my favorite and have tried to find a fragrance to wear like that scent I love so. May God continue to guide as you write from your heart, Pamela~