Do you smell something fishy?

Sight, sound, smell, taste, touch. Which is the most evocative sense?

When we write we use, or try to use as many of human senses as we can for a truly immersive experience, but we inevitably tend to prioritise sight and sound, and touch if it happens to be pertinent. Taste is a tricky one, unless relevant to a situation.

But what about smell?

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Of all 5 senses, smell is the most primitive. When you inhale, about 5 million receptor cells fire impulses to the olfactory (smell) centre in the brain. This in turn alerts your cerebral cortex to send a message directly into your limbic system – the primitive part of the brain that deals with emotions and desires.

When you see or hear something, your brain immediately starts trying to interpret the stimuli.

When you smell something there is no interpretation, just reaction.

And that’s why the sense of smell is so powerful – smell a roast turkey and it’s Christmas all over again; get a whiff of sea salt and you’re back on the beach, reliving all those childhood holidays. And just as if you were really there, you relive all the emotions that went with those events.

A simple smell rekindles the sharpest memories of all, and that’s why great writers use the sense of smell as often as they can work it into their stories.

How about you, scriveners – do you use the sense of smell as much as you should?

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