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I am a lifelong writer, who was also born without an ability to smell. I have been trained to engage the reader by applying the five senses, or as many of the five as is practical without becoming excessive. My problem is that I am straight up missing a sense.

Think of a writer who was born blind, and has created stories by dictating them to software or a person. But they're writing characters who aren't blind. How would that person write vision, so that the readers can really feel it?

Or a writer who was born deaf, totally alien to any concept of sound, but none of their characters are hard of hearing. Obviously, they could write one or more characters who are, and would present a really interesting perspective on that. But how do they describe sounds to people who know what that is like?

I have tried for my entire life to interview people and gain an understanding of this missing sense. Unfortunately, it's just not part of my cognition. I know garbage and armpits and rotting meat smell bad. I know baking bread, fresh cut grass, and many flowers have pleasant odors. But I struggle to do more, and most often forget entirely to add smell to my story. As though everyone in that world shares my disability.

What can I do, beyond just using words like "good, bad, strong," or "sweet," words that carry over into other senses, to give readers an experience like they are there?

  • What's your setting? Medieval fantasy/historical, modern day, science fiction? – nick012000 Feb 13 at 11:09
  • "I'm less going for "what word should I use" and more of how to write fiction in a way where people who have smell aren't alienated. If I read a story written by someone who had never seen anything, I'd probably be able to tell that they'd never seen color or glimpsed a mountain vista before. I don't want my writing to do that. Leaving smell out isn't an option, and neither is writing it from imagination." - that belongs in the question, all of which I disagree with except 'from imagination'. – Mazura Feb 14 at 2:34
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    What makes you so sure that describing smells is important? I've read a lot of novels, and off the top of my head, I can't think of any passage in any of them that describes a smell. I've also never noticed the fact that the author was not describing a smell. So for me, personally, if you left all mention of scents out of your writing, I definitely wouldn't even notice its absence. – Tanner Swett Feb 14 at 2:53
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    @Mazura, let me be more clear. These are not options for me specifically. It would be the equivalent of writing a story with no visual elements because I'd never seen any. I could do that, yes, and it might be interesting, but as an author with integrity I feel the need to include a more complete experience. – PastAndFuture Feb 14 at 3:19
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    as someone who suffers with hyposmia I am indebted to you for asking this question – Jimmery Feb 14 at 16:10

12 Answers 12

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Even for people who can smell, the sense is rarely precise enough to describe save by way of analogy. Someone particularly interested in cooking or food in general might train themselves to be able to pick out and recognize the specific elements making up a scent, but for the general population, if you're not simply saying directly what something smells of, relate it to the general categories of its composition. Something might smell metallic, earthy, floral, or oily, for example. Wet materials usually, although not always, stand out over dry ones, and hot or even just warm ones over cold. The longer something has been part of an area, the more it will be part of the background scent, and faintly noticeable even after cleaning. And being imprecise is fine; most people will say 'the smell after rain,' not 'petrichor.'

Although the specifics of what falls into each can vary from person to person, people will commonly also notice whether things smell fresh (clean, as in air untainted by perfume or vehicle exhaust, but also alive; a hospital, laboratory, or other sterile location would not generally fall into this category) or stale (dry, left too long; places that receive insufficient ventilation and foods that go bad without rotting). Rot or (especially in older media) foulness is distinct from either; it's the wet, alive kind of bad smell, produced by most kinds of decomposition (and by extension, excrement and the like). It's also far more noticeable than the other two, and will overpower most other scents present.

How much can you taste? The two senses are strongly linked when both are present, so almost any adjective you would apply to a taste can safely be applied to a scent. Acrid smells, such as from strong cleaning substances or burning plastic or rubber, will sting the nose in the same way spice does the tongue.

Another thing to keep in mind is that, as with touch, constant exposure will dull one's awareness of a scent. Much as one is not constantly aware of the feeling of one's clothing, the smell of someone's own home or a perfume they wear daily will be almost unnoticeable. Small changes to otherwise familiar environments will tug at one's awareness much like new clothing. The smell of an unfamiliar location, however, will be primarily noticeable when first entering it.

Finally, as OldBat alluded to, for most people, scent is strongly linked to memory. The majority of scents won't be connected to anything in particular, but it's common for someone to have specific things they can't smell without being reminded of past events. A particular recipe might, for example, not smell just 'of cookies' but 'of weekends at Grandmother's house.' Not to be overused, but good for adding some emotional association to a scene.

Charles Staats brings up another excellent point:

Note also that association plays a significant role -- I personally dislike the smell of fresh cut grass, for instance, because I associate it with itchy eyes (because of my allergies). Especially relevant here are the smells of coffee, alcohol, and tobacco -- these will typically smell awful to someone who does not use them, but good to someone who does. (Or so I understand -- the only one of these I can personally attest to is coffee.) Tobacco smoke especially is interesting since many ex-smokers detest the smell.

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    I can actually taste pretty well, though I've gathered it's not as "strong" as people who have smell and taste. Think of it like when you're recovering from a cold, and your senses are dulled. I don't know how hard that affects people with smell, obviously, but with me, it can range from "no taste" to "weak taste." What I'm gathering from your post is to go abstract instead of specific. Don't have characters agree universally on "good" smells and "bad" smells, but instead have some like smells that are weird, smells that other people don't like. – PastAndFuture Feb 13 at 4:11
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    @PastAndFuture "Don't have characters agree universally on "good" smells and "bad" smells" I don't think that this answer said that, but rather described language that you could use to describe the sensation of smell. Just about everyone with a functioning nose will agree that rotting waste or excrement smells bad, for instance. – nick012000 Feb 13 at 11:06
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    "Petrichor" is an odd word. It's one of the only words for a scent that is so specific to just one thing. As such, it's almost never used except as a piece of interesting trivia (e.g. that one Doctor Who episode), or to sound overly poetic. Only use it if you want to sound pretentious. – Darrel Hoffman Feb 13 at 14:39
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    Note also that association plays a significant role -- I personally dislike the smell of fresh cut grass, for instance, because I associate it with itchy eyes (because of my allergies). Especially relevant here are the smells of coffee, alcohol, and tobacco -- these will typically smell awful to someone who does not use them, but good to someone who does. (Or so I understand -- the only one of these I can personally attest to is coffee.) Tobacco smoke especially is interesting since many ex-smokers detest the smell. – Charles Staats Feb 13 at 19:48
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    @CharlesStaats, thank you for contributing this! It tells me that I can use smell as a language to help explain things about the character. Show don't tell, y'know. If the character dislikes the smell of hay, grass, or flowers, maybe it's related to allergies. If they don't like the smell of tobacco, maybe an abusive family member smoked. There's a character in a show I like who noted that a man he'd just now met "smelled like Dad after a bad day," alluding to his father's alcoholism. A character trait that had not been shown/mentioned until that point. – PastAndFuture Feb 14 at 3:22
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TL;DR

Focus on sight, hearing, and emotions. Don't worry about smell.


I have been trained to engage the reader by applying the five senses, or as many of the five as is practical without becoming excessive.

I disagree with your training. Good use of the senses can enhance a story, but they are not necessary to tell an enjoyable story. Don't try to cram things where they don't belong because you're slavishly following a "rule"!

When you go to a movie, how much do you taste and touch compared to seeing and hearing? None at all! It's the same with smell.

Offhand, I can't think of a story that used smell, taste, touch, balance or any other sense apart from sight and hearing. Actually, that's not true I just thought of one: Ether Breather by Theodore Sturgeon. However, smell was an important plot element in that story, not just used for atmospherics.

Don't use sight, hearing, touch, and taste all in one paragraph and leave out smell, because people will notice that only one was not mentioned. In fact, don't use five senses in a single paragraph at all! That smacks of following a rule!

There are other senses that people don't often think about, such as balance. It's not necessary to mention that the character is balanced when they're walking. You only mention what is unusual. The character is walking as if they're drunk. Another character looks like they've had extensive dance training, etc.

Now that being said, let's say you're going to use smell sparingly if at all:

  • Read a lot and notice how other authors you respect use smell. Emulate their use of smell if you can.
  • You have an editor, right? Or someone you trust to give you constructive criticism before the story is finished? Trust them to guide you when you want to use smell.
  • Not everything has a smell, and we're not constantly smelling things the same way we're not constantly tasting things. Learn when it's appropriate to use smell. If you say "the smell of dandelions" most people will be left scratching their heads. If you say "the smell of a pine forest" most people will think of coolness, the tall trees, the pine needles on the ground, etc. Smell evokes other senses, mostly sight and hearing. You remember what you saw and heard, and how that made you feel when you smelt that smell.
  • Smells are usually very subtle. However, if your character finds a body that's been dead for a couple of days, it will smell and it will be very strange if you don't mention it as the character should have a reaction from it. Think about a scene inside a building next to a busy road. The characters can probably hear a low sound from the cars outside. But is it important to mention that fact or does it get in the way of the story? However, if one of the cars blows up, you definitely need to mention it, again because the characters are expected to react to it.

Not all senses are equally important. Focus on the important ones for people which are sight and hearing. Everything else can be ignored without the reader noticing. If you have to use smell, use it in such a way that it evokes sight and hearing.

Last thought: in The Good Place (TV series), there are frozen yogurt shops with an almost infinite number of flavours. The flavours include: raspberry sorbet, potato chip, Maine lobster, the perfect high five, skinny dipping, cancelled plans, empty inbox, inside jokes, stardust, and full cell phone battery. Eleanor says the last flavour makes her feel relaxed. What is "full cell phone battery" flavour? It's the feeling of satisfaction you have from knowing you have a full phone battery. Smells are the same. It's the (emotional) feeling you get from the taste or smell that's important.

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  • People shouldn't sleep on this response. It is easily one of the better ones for what I'm seeking. And layered like a cake. I would open with a disagreement though. Not a factual one, but a perspective one. Outside of the theater, people talk so much about smell, and I think you non-anosmics don't really notice how much it happens, because why would we notice how much we talk about seeing? Or hearing? It's a reality for us, so we don't really think about just how often we say "Look at it this way" or "Looks like" or "You're really bright! You must do well in school." – PastAndFuture Feb 14 at 13:28
  • People who go to movies DO think about it. That's why some quirky movies have tried Smell-O-Vision. People subconsciously want to experience something in every possible way, because it's more satisfying. I don't have memories when I taste food. I barely have memories when I see food. It's a very present, disconnected experience. Someone baking bread doesn't remind me of anything. Mowing my lawn doesn't remind me of anything. Being in a smoky bar doesn't remind me of anything. – PastAndFuture Feb 14 at 13:31
  • I am too poor to have an editor. "Not everything has a smell" is something I constantly hear, but it is impossible to know. Like really, truly know. I would have to take someone on a walking tour and catalog their response to hundreds of things. It is also impossible to know the strength of a smell. Dumpsters smell like dead bodies to me. Ammonia smells like fish to me. Flowers smell like paint to me. Because none of those things smell like anything. Smells don't work like sound. A sound will always be quieter from farther away. Smells aren't like that. – PastAndFuture Feb 14 at 13:36
  • Despite it probably sounding like I'm tearing your answer apart, understand that I like it more than most of the answers here. – PastAndFuture Feb 14 at 13:37
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You don't always have to use smell in every scene; if you're doing it to highlight a person, place, or thing then you should do it there only, or you could describe it in other ways without the smell, or it might actually be interesting to just have your main POV character also not have this ability. I don't think I've ever heard a character have this.

But I suppose its not just about highlighting but when do you apply them? I'd say when the smell is key for a central place or to give the reader more emotions towards the place or person in question: you're using the scent, along with sight and any other sense the character can latch onto, to aid in connecting with the reader emotionally to the place.

I have found some items; while not a database like I desired, these do give some specific examples of smells - but you don't need to get this specific:

Notice how it's not trying to name say spices specifically on say the wood links; it just says X wood has a lingering sent or X has a pleasing spicy aroma.

For an example, Amber noticed the warm distinct scent of Thyme rising from the chicken broth before she even sipped from her spoon. However, other characters won't notice this as pepper is most strongest over Thyme, so only someone being particularly found of Thyme will say so; others may just smell the pepper. This means Amber is a fan of Thyme spice, but does this really aid plot wise? No. Might it emotionally tie someone to her; maybe, but doubtful.

Now I don't know the fragrances described in that breakdown, but what they are doing is making it sound great - so even though I've never smelt most of those combos, it just makes me go, "maybe I'll try that".

Other things like scented candles are the same. If it isn't titled dirt or apple farms somethings, you will be truly miffed about what does the flavor patriot mean to you? Nothing at the face, could mean it smells Smokey, could mean it smells musty, could mean its smells like gunpowder. No clue: have to buy it and find out. But in this case, who cares? I made up a name that might allow the reader to infer what it smells like to them. So that's the other idea: if you are working in a modern Earth-like setting, just allow the reader to infer unless you need the smell to generate specific emotions in that specific scene for the reader.

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The dilema you face actually has a term, "Qualia," which is a linguistic inability to describe a sense stimuli. The UR question of "Qualia" is "Describe a color with out using any comparisons to things that have that color". It's so difficult that even some of our words for colors are taken from things that have the color as an attribute (in the English Language, "Orange" is a very recent addition to the vocabulary, and derives from an Arabic loanword (by way of French, Narange) for the citrus fruit. Yes, the color is named for the fruit, and not the fruit for the color, and the word simply didn't exist prior to the 16th century (prior to this Orange was simply a shade of red or yellow depending on the shade).

That said, some of your assumptions about disabilities are not properly formed. Deaf people can still "feel" some musical components such as a song with a heavy beat or bass, and there's a wide spectrum of "blindness" that still allows for some "sight" (Legal Blindness is defined at 200/20 vision aka being able to see something 20 feet away as if it was 200 feet away. I have a family friend who is blind but can still watch Baseball games in the stadium at night (the stadium lights will help him identify the players on the field and he could read who played what position in the field, while batters were announced when they were up). If they weren't born blind but lost vision later in life, Blind people will often have sighted dreams (depending on how recent the loss occurred, they are mixed with "sound dreams" where they hear the elements of a dream.).

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  • Fun fact, the word for the color orange, before the fruit was widely known in most of Europe, used to be saffron. Saffron flowers are purple, but the spice made from it, which is what most people would've seen, is orange. – Ryan_L Feb 13 at 21:07
  • What you are reading as my "assumption" is simply keeping this brief. I have a tendency to ramble, and I wanted this question to be quickly legible and promote responses, so to improve the depth of material I can use from the answers. I know what you are referring to regarding vibrations, and have dear friends who are legally blind. I oversimplified for the sake of analogy, and again, for brevity. While I can research Qualia thanks to you, your answer didn't really address how to benefit my writing in a constructive way. – PastAndFuture Feb 14 at 3:26
  • @PastAndFuture: Well, that's kind of the point. Qualia is a linguistic inability to explain a description to people because the only basis for understanding for such a description is to experience it. That is if you're a blue man who lives in a blue world and everything you see is blue like you, inside and out, how do I explain that Red is a thing? It's impossible to describe qualia attributes without the shared experience. – hszmv Feb 14 at 12:49
  • @hszmv, Really starting to sound like you're making fun of me. – PastAndFuture Feb 17 at 0:27
  • @PastAndFuture: Not my intention and I have no idea where I said something that could have been construed that way. – hszmv Feb 18 at 14:02
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You've most likely tried this already - but it's always a safe bet to talk to peers for their opinions on certain objects who can smell.

In what I've read at least, describing how something smells isn't super important - usually readers look for how things appear, sound, or feel. But smell and taste are super connected so if you can taste things, you could use the way you experience that sense to help you with sense of smell.

Words that might better illustrate a point instead of "good" or "bad"-
Pungent (really strong smell - if something is rotten or steaming this could apply)
Acrid (irritatingly strong/unpleasant [used for taste as well])
Sour (like lemons)
Salty (the ocean)
Flowery (if you're around plants, maybe a light smell)
Cloying (way too sweet or rich - like rotten fruit or too much perfume)
Hopefully you get the idea - maybe I'm being unclear

You could also describe what a smell does instead of trying to give it an adjective you don't understand - like if you're smelling ammonia, that stuff burns. You could probably infer that because it hurts when you get to close and it can make your eyes water.

Good luck, hope this is of at least a bit of help. Have fun!

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    I'm less going for "what word should I use" and more of how to write fiction in a way where people who have smell aren't alienated. If I read a story written by someone who had never seen anything, I'd probably be able to tell that they'd never seen color or glimpsed a mountain vista before. I don't want my writing to do that. Leaving smell out isn't an option, and neither is writing it from imagination. Of note, ammonia doesn't make my eyes water. I had to take a deep breath of IcyHot to even get a sense that it was a strong chemical, and I still didn't smell it. – PastAndFuture Feb 13 at 4:14
  • Okay then with the ammonia thing you've very lucky xD Sorry for all the misinterpretations. I'd say the other answers have a lot of good ideas. – Tasch Feb 13 at 15:33
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    @PastAndFuture I can't think offhand of a story that used smell although I must have read many of them. It's not a prerequisite to use every sense in every story. I would not feel alienated if smell (or taste or touch) were never mentioned in a story. I expect most stories to rely on sights and sounds. There are additional senses that most people don't think of like balance that also don't need to be used in a story. – CJ Dennis Feb 14 at 5:45
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Maybe you could think of scents as colors to understand them? A strong smell of say, lemon, could represent the color yellow. Vibrant and energetic, sometimes even tickling up your nose like the sun. (I hear half of earth's population can look at bright light to trigger a sneeze - I'm one of them) If there's sugar mixed into it, I'd say the color would be like a pale yellow. Softer to the palate.

I'm not saying go for colors that matches the fruit, food or flower in real life. Yellow and lemon was just my first thought. A bright color could represent a strong scent. Softer shades for more subtle scents. There's atleast as many scents as there are colors, probably much more.

And comparing scents to something you suspect people would know of could help. You could say a whiff of cinnamon hit your nostrils and a flash of childhood memories gushed through you. You're reminded of last fall when your family was baking in the kitchen and the apples hung big and red in the garden.

People like different things, so narrating taste and smell can be hit or miss. Memories or emotions can often do more for the reader to understand what your character is experiencing.

I use things like wet grass, smell of rain or ozon right before a lightning strike, sharp smell of metal or dust and so on. I hardly ever say something smelled good or bad. Find the object you'd like them to focus on and say it smelled of X. Then you're not telling people what to feel.

"Show, don't tell" is probably already familiar to you.

Happy writing!

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  • Great answer. Love the color idea – Tasch Feb 13 at 2:24
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    This gets into synesthesia territory, though. I don't want to describe smell using my other senses if I can get away with it, because other people have this sense. They don't HAVE to compare it to other senses, but they do sometimes because our brain lobes don't live in separate buildings. I am one of those people who sneezes at the sun, though. – PastAndFuture Feb 13 at 4:07
  • @PastAndFuture I only meant for you to use colors to imagine the many variations of scents. Not to use them in your writing. – OldBat Feb 13 at 12:58
  • @OldBat, appreciated, but this is strictly relevant to writing. My own experience with trying to understand smell is a related but disconnected matter. – PastAndFuture Feb 14 at 3:28
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I once read that if one is writing about the life of a fast food worker, the reader needs to "smell the grease." I'd like to build on the sense of smell being strongly tied to memory. Smell can sometimes be a vital component of an experience. Once, in a scientific study I participated in, I had to sign a waiver warning me that the smell test could trigger traumatic memories.

What you might have more success with is gathering information on what kinds of memories and emotions different smells evoke. Don't be too concerned with objective meanings for smells, but rather the common threads. Sometimes maybe there isn't anything readily apparent. In the Witcher series, Yennefer is described as smelling of lilac and gooseberries. That specific scent means absolutely nothing to me, but does bring to mind an ex that went a bit overboard on perfume.

Think first about what you want your readers to feel, and find a scent that can bring that to the scene. Cut grass is summer, freedom, bright sunlight, or maybe it mixes with exhaust and sweat, and becomes a memory of your father, or of moving away and becoming the father of a new family with a yard that beckons you to tend it for a moment of solitude.

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  • I actually get a lot out of your response, in an interesting way. Some very flowery writers love to describe the sights of dogwood, chrysanthemum, black oak, and so on, but even as someone who can see, I can't actively recall what these plants look like. Maybe because I haven't seen them in a while, or at all. Such specific notions cater to a reader who knows well what the writer is talking about, but not to someone who has never had those experiences. Whereas (looking now at a picture of a Dogwood tree), I could describe a squat tree of wide branches and white-petaled flowers. Clearer, no? – PastAndFuture Feb 14 at 3:31
  • Thanks! Not bad for my first ever answer on the site. – Lockewood Feb 14 at 19:43
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What can I do, beyond just using words like "good, bad, strong," or "sweet," words that carry over into other senses, to give readers an experience like they are there?

Some great answers already given, but I just wanted to add a couple tidbits. First, even those who can smell fine often have a hard time describing smells. Smells are much more abstract than sights, physical feelings, even sounds. So it wouldn't be a stretch for your characters to sometimes have a hard time describing a smell beyond abstractions (which Amai gave some great examples for, like "metallic", "earthy", etc.).

In addition to that, I think one of the most fundamental aspects of smell is that it's a very emotional sense. It's often tied to nostalgia, yes, but even a smell you've never smelled before can elicit an emotional response. Disgust, pleasure, intrigue... in a way, I would almost say that smell is emotion. Like emotion, it's intangible (almost ethereal), often fleeting, and you don't always have control over how and when it affects you.

I think the closest sense to smell is actually hearing, not taste. Just like a song can lift you up into euphoria or plunge you into despair by playing on memories, hopes, fears, etc., smell can do the same.

That's not to say smell is always heavily emotional. But I do think it's almost always somewhat emotional. I very rarely notice a smell without attaching some response to it -- ranging from "That smells nice" to euphoric nostalgia on the good side, and from "That smells odd" to immediate repulsion on the bad side.

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Keep it Specific.

Here's why: The nose has thousands of specific odor receptors, not just a few general ones like 'sweet'. The receptor sites in the nose respond to molecular shapes and polarization. Two different chemicals almost never smell the same.

Often, in chemical papers you see a note like 'the smell is distinctive'. Some have objected that this is unhelpful, but in fact it is precise. A molecule can activate neurons leading to an odor you cannot describe because it smells like nothing else in the world.

There are a few receptors that are not very specific. 'flowery' smells all contain similar but not identical chemicals. Other categories like 'woody' exist because all wood has a few chemicals in common.

Most odors are a mixture of chemicals. People can pick out the smell of coffee and detect the cinnamon and vanilla added. But you cannot describe a new smell that you experience to someone who has not. Pure odors are not 'close' to each other. Mixtures can be close -- This cup has less cinnamon than usual. But the smell of cinnamon is not 'a little like vanilla and a bit like banana'.

So in your writing you would be safest to keep it specific. Things like the smell of old books, or recognizing the smell of a particular brand of perfume. "You use Evian skin cream, and sometimes you wear L'Air du Temps, but not today."

Another point to be aware of: smell fades from awareness in less than a minute. When you walk into a room you may smell the coffee. But not after being there. If you leave for a minute and come back you will smell it again.

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A couple of answers above have alluded to the nostalgia or emotion factors. Personally, I would recommend you focus on this more than trying to come up with lots of description.

A lot of the time - to me at least - smell is inconsequential, unless it’s particularly strong or unpleasant, but every so often, I do find a smell has a very specific association and I instantly make the connection. This might be just me, but I suspect it’s more because we don’t have ways of easily categorising / describing smells and our brains find other ways to recall them.

To give you an example, I’ve smelled the fragrance of an obscure cleaning product that I didn’t even know existed and could immediately say, with absolute certainty, that I smelled it in my grandmother’s house as a toddler decades ago.

Slightly more commonplace experiences would be familiar smells that you recognise and encounter more frequently, say a perfume someone often wears, where you know they’ve entered the room without looking, or a familiar cooking smell on entering a kitchen means you already know what you’ll be eating.

My advice would be not to overdo the smell references. If you do it in every description, I think it will appear forced and overdone, but the occasional reference with an association could be quite effective.

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I really just have a couple of suggestions to add to the previous answers and it mostly builds on Guy Gordon's answer. There are many 'primary' smells (like primary colors) that are based off specific chemicals. These smells show up anywhere that the chemicals are present. Ammonia is a great example. I can't tell you what ammonia smells like, but anyone that has smelled it will readily identify it in many places like bathroom cleaners, or the stifling smell of an industrial poultry farm, or the smell of urine. Hydrogen Sulfide is another potent scent and not a good one. It has a rotten egg smell and is what gives farts their bad smell. There is an entire branch of Organic Chemistry that focuses on "aromatics" named as such because they have distinct aromas that are normally fairly strong. Now I would also agree that it's better to describe specific smells that are unique to a place, event, or a thing, rather than a generic peppering of some default chemical odors. Considering the ammonia example above, think of it more as adding to your palette of smells not as a specific smell itself (although it is actually a smell in itself). But what I mean is all those other smells, the poultry farm, urine, etc, are different shades.

The other thing I'm going to suggest is more along the lines of CJ Dennis's answer. I'm not saying you shouldn't write about smell, after all people write compelling stories all the time from voices and perspectives apart from their own (men write compelling women characters, women write compelling men characters, sighted people write a blind person, etc). But you shouldn't worry about turning off readers because your writing doesn't dive too much into the scents of your worlds. If you describe a flower garden, a reader will fill it with their own imagination of scents. Writers rarely describe what the voice of a character sounds like, but we all 'hear' them anyways when they speak. But if you still want to write the smells into your world, and you're prepared to stumble quite a bit, then go for it! Try to do lots of research, read books that feature scent (like Perfume by Patrick Suskind), and get lots of feedback from your friends who have more experience smelling things.

Also, a little about myself, is I have almost the opposite problem you have. I normally have a slightly above average ability to smell, but have occasional bouts with hyperosmia that can make even faint perfumes overwhelming. I love the smell of wood, fresh cut lumber and such. Summertime always smells to me a little like death because more animals die on the roadways and the heat makes their smells carry a long way. You can learn a lot about a person from the smell of their breath. I'm very fond of the scent of fresh roses, but I don't really like anything 'rose scented'; it's just not the same. I ate a chicken patty from McDonald's once that had the same smell as something I had eaten decades earlier in grade school cafeteria (though that's one of the only times I've ever had a scent 'memory'). The reason I'm mentioning this is just to try and give you a sense of how complicated smells can be for people.

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If the author does not know what things smell like, then he/she can either borrow the descriptions from other sources, plagiarism out of scope for a moment, or turn the tables and make the narrator/characters not have the sense of smell. Everything else IMO is going to sound false.

As to how not to plagiarize the smell's descriptions, I guess that there should be some purely textbook, scientific or medical descriptions of smells.

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