I just walked into the lobby of my building and caught a whiff of someone’s perfume. It smelled like my mom—Clinique, I think. It made me miss her deep in my chest and down through my toes. It hasn't even been that long since I saw her—maybe two and a half months—but something about that scent did me in.
Memories triggered by smells or sounds are funny things. It’s not something we consciously think of like a memory from a photograph. Smell/sound memories often sneak up on us and the attached emotion, as in my case, can take us by surprise.
I have recently been in a bit of a funk- in life and in my writing. Even though this moment today felt like a negative emotion, it actually was a bit cathartic. It prompted me to write this post, but it also engaged me in an internal audit of how I write my characters. Do I know them well enough to know if a specific scent or song will conjure up a memory of their mother, a moment with a long ago lover, or a better-forgotten part of their past?
I think a writer should know these things about their characters. The reader doesn't have to know, but if the writer knows, it will inform how the character behaves and is affected by the surrounding characters and plot.
So even though that hint of perfume made me long for a trip home, it also made me a better writer.
What scents/sounds do you associate with some of your memories?
What makes you a better writer?
Here's some interesting information on scent stimuli from this blog.
Why does smell bring back Memories? Here is how it works: After an odor molecule enters the nose and is recognized by the olfactory sensors (receptors inside your nose that have millions of nerve cells), the signals are immediately sent to the Limbic system. The olfactory system processes information on both the limbic system(which controls emotions, memory and behavior) and cortex(control of conscious thought) as they work in concert, they affect our memories. It is said that people can identify about 10,000 different scents. Olfactory memory is constructed based on personal experiences. The sense of smell is the leading sense humans use as a memory tool and it also triggers our emotions. The way memories are recorded is still unknown.