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Exercise: Stop and smell the roses (Version 2)

These exercises were written by IWW members and administrators to provide structured practice opportunities for its members. You are welcome to use them for practice as well. Please mention that you found them at the Internet Writers Workshop (http://www.internetwritingwor kshop.org/).

Prepared by: Florence Cardinal
Posted on: September 28, 2003
Reposted on: August 14, 2005

The sense of smell influences our choices and our thinking more often than we realize. In fact, it can even cause a complete change of heart.

For instance, a woman gets on the bus and sees this terribly attractive gentleman sitting there. She sits down beside him expecting the aroma of a spicy after-shave. Instead, his strong body odor almost makes her gag. Suddenly she doesn't find him so attractive anymore.

Or perhaps it's the other way around. Something that at first holds little appeal - perhaps a person, a flower, a food you've never tried - becomes more appealing when you get a whiff of its delightful scent.

Smell is the most evocative of all the senses - the one most likely to bring back memories. For example, what if that man on the bus was wearing after-shave, but it was the same brand as the woman's ex-husband? Suddenly, all the unpleasant memories are brought back, and the attractive stranger becomes lost behind them.

On the other hand, Perhaps someone she didn't even notice is wearing after-shave that reminds her of someone she loved dearly - her father or a lover who has died or gone away. The person wearing that scent now has her attention and she finds herself attracted to him.

The aroma of roses from a hidden garden brings back memories of the home where she was raised. The smell of cinnamon rolls baking reminds someone of his or her grandmother.

Pursuing this further - are there circumstances where body odor might be less unpleasant? Husband comes home from a hard day's work, his wife savors the honest scent of him (before sending him off to shower prior to dinner.)

For this exercise, in 300 words or less, describe how someone's mind is changed by the sense of smell.

As you critique, mention if the writer uses the sense of smell in an original way. Mention weaknesses and strengths in how the character's sense of smell changes his or her mind. Give the writer thoughtful feedback that may be useful in a rewrite.

Florence Cardinal

Florence Cardinal's wrap-up
Posted on: October 5, 2003

This was a very prolific week with over 30 subs and an average of four or five critiques on each. And what an amazing variety of aromas. My nose still tingles.

Several of you chose the smell of food, an excellent reminder of places gone by whether it's a favorite restaurant or the smell of home cooking. Others ran the gamut from places the river, the ocean to Venice and its canals. A few wrote of sweet smells - roses, cologne and perfume, incense.

The ones I found most interesting were about not so pleasant odors - dirty clothing, even dirtier diapers, stale cigarettes.

This was one of the exercises we run to show how using the five senses can evoke memories, whether its the sense of smell, taste, sight, hearing or touch. Taste the homemade ice-cream, see an old red barn like grandpa had, hear the song that was playing the first time you made love, run your hand over the soft texture of a velvet shirt. Oh, and don't forget to stop and smell the roses.

Use your senses to bring back memories to add color and flavor to your writing. We all have memories. They just need awakening.

Florence Cardinal

Patricia Johnson 's wrap-up
Posted on: Sun, 21 Aug 2005

A few things occurred to me as I read this week's submissions. First, how original the stories were. Second, how much freedom smell allows in weaving its way through a story; which may be an asset to improving an existing story - just add some well thought out sense-of-smell elements. Smell it up a bit. Third, the freedom smell allows to blend different scents. For instance, a walk in the park with the scents of lilacs and roses is a different walk entirely from a walk in the park with the scents of lilacs and rotting lake vegetation. This exercise is not difficult technically, but it can be used to learn how smell can affect a story. Homework: update a stalled story or paragraph with some smells. Whew!

Thanks to everyone who participated with subs and crits. Special thanks to those of you who posted some especially thoughtful critiques.

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Modified by Gayle Surrette.