Have you thought of using memories to enhance your descriptions? The sense of smell is one of the best ways to do this.
The Scent Of Remembrance
On Sunday afternoons, when things slow down and you can catch your breath with a cup of coffee or a hot chocolate, you may just find yourself in a reflective mood. Over lunch today, my sister and cousin were reminiscing about sea-side holidays we used to have as kids.
As they were talking, I remembered so many vivid details of those holidays. The block of flats we used to stay in. The building was painted blue with the crest of a buck on the wall. I could smell the inside of the lift again. I could sit here until my hot chocolate turned cold and I still couldn’t describe that smell.
The scent of sunscreen or candy floss would be easier and more carefree and, yet, it’s that warm enclosed lift I want to write about. The almost magisterial staleness of that space was both sobering and thrilling.
All in the details
It felt like a serious and grown-up piece of machinery; as a kid, I used to get a secret kick using it as a child unaccompanied by an adult – pressing the heavy black round button, listening to the heavy outer wooden door swung shut as the steel doors slid over and sealed me in, and the orange numbers counting off the floors. The smell of stale oil and hot machinery seems fanciful now – I’m not convinced it captures that special smell for me.
I don’t think I was the only child who loved the lifts. There was one crotchety old lady who complained about “kids fooling around in the lifts” and now, with a faint chuckle, I’m pretty sure I was one of those kids. It must have been an adventure for a five- or six-year-old boy.
Capturing the elusive
My hot chocolate is finished and, for a moment, I felt foolish for writing about something so trivial, when I wanted to write about the excitement of summer at the sea. But I realised the small memories are important and, I think, even more special. The descriptions you struggle with, and yearn to capture, stretch you as a writer. They make you think. They make you grow.
I still don’t think I can capture that scent, that memory completely – and maybe I shouldn’t try to. It’s enough to go back there and remember as much as you can and write it, report it, as honestly as you can.
Why not try these exercises?
- Write about your last haircut or trip to the hairdresser in as much detail as possible.
- Write about the smell of your family car as a kid or the caravan or holiday home you visited.
- Write about the smell of the inside of your mother’s handbag or your father’s study or workroom.
- Write about hot chocolate or ginger tea or any of your favourite drinks.
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