Everyone's heard of "comfort food": grilled cheese, tomato soup, mashed potatoes...But what about comfort smells? The things that make you inhale deeply and immediately smile. Take you to that warm, safe place. For some, it's laundry dried on the line. For others, it's chocolate chip cookies in the oven. Or a Tide-drenched blanket. For me, it's the little-boy smell of my son's room. The way my dogs' bellies smell like Fritos after they've napped. How warm vanilla reminds me of my Mom. Smell is such a powerful sense. Even now when I smell Ciara, an inexpensive perfume, images of my mom pop to the forefront of my mind. I can see her, circa 1983, with big hair and an equally big smile. I love when I glimpse a scent of Ciara because it takes me to that place where my Mom used to be and I was a child.
Our senses are powerful things. They can transport us to other worlds, including the past. And, ultimately, where we sit in our daily lives. Whether it's the chlorine-water-logged kid, the intoxicating smell of a baby after a bath, or the smell of coconut anything that reminds us of the beach. Our sense of smell takes us to the past, the future, and forces us to bask in the present. More than sight. More than taste. More than even music, our sense of smell is the ultimate time machine.
In writing, authors often take paragraphs to describe setting or the characteristics of the protagonist, and these things can be important if the setting is key to the story. Or you can't glean some hidden character flaw from dialogue and action. But nothing tugs at the reader as much as an accurate--and short--description of a familiar smell. Something that shoves us into that pocket of our minds where we not only remember, but have visceral reactions. Something as simple as the scent of pine at Christmas. The sharp espresso smell when you walk into a Starbucks. The musty steam that rises in the sun from the street after a quick, hard summer rain. It only takes a few words, and you not only are present in the story, your senses react. And like comfort food, you fall into it effortlessly.