Description of the Senses

Often, as writers, we’re told to write what we know. It makes me wonder, though, about things we think we know or don’t know. Missing a sense does not preclude one from undertaking the written word – even braille can be translated for sighted people.

But do the blind writers show the same sights to the reader? Can a deaf writer make the reader hear things in the story? Are smell and/or taste also subjected to the same rules?

I’ve been thinking about my book, and I am pretty sure I never mention a single smell in it. Why? I smell almost nothing. My recent pregnancy showed me there was a world out there full of scents that are beyond my daily reach (which promptly disappeared after the baby arrived). Most people I know take this for granted – some even find it as an annoyance when faced with particularly strong aromas like perfume.

Recently I rode in a car with a couple sensitive-nosed women and another who wore perfume. I remained unaware through the entire ride there was perfume present. Only during (late) pregnancy did I smell things like dishsoap while washing dishes, the dirty dishrag that needed to be changed, and the laundry aisle in the grocery store.

I’ll remember all those new scents for a time, but what happens when the memory fades? Will I remember enough to write scents into the story? It’s such a struggle for me to remember things smell anyway. I know flowers do, not so much from personal experience but by social acclimation. People speak about the smells of certain things: flowers, perfume/cologne, manure, babies.

When I read, sometimes I think about lacking senses and the authors behind the work – but I admit it doesn’t come up much. Do you ever wonder about the author and the descriptions used? I struggle so much to include smell lately. I know it’s a weakness.

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