So yesterday I was zinging right along with making some revisions in my ms and came across a comment from my editor.
The setup: My heroine had arrived at the animal shelter to adopt a dog. A volunteer escorted her to the back room where the dogs were caged. I wrote about the sounds and the sights, but my editor's comment--What does she smell?
Okay. Right. I had left off one important "sense" to bring the scene to life. I began to write about the scent, the smell, the odor, the air, and soon I had a page full of partial sentences, which had all been discarded. I closed my eyes and tried to remember the smell of such a place. Finally, I went to bed determined to make a visit to my local shelter to renew the experience. I "KNEW" the smell. It was right at the tip of my nose, but I couldn't for the life of me find a way to bring that smell to paper.
At work the next day I called my daughter who had worked in a shelter for a brief time as a volunteer. I woke her up. Ooops. She's been doing a battle with allergies for a few days, she kind of sounded like, "Heddo?" Hee hee!! Since she was now awake, I didn't want to waste the entire call apologizing.
I asked her to close her eyes and go back to when she worked in the animal shelter. I told her to close her eyes and picture it.
She responded with, "Oh, Do. I dote thick this is godda be ady fud." Translation: Oh, no. I don't think this is gonna be any fun.
But since I'm the mom she had to try. "Now tell me what you smell," I said. Well, you know where this is leading, don't you? Yeah, you're right. She said she didn't smell anything because her nose was all stopped up!!
Then we stopped laughing and she really tried to tell me what she remembered smelling. Yep, it was the same thing I remembered smelling. But she couldn't put it in words any more than I could put it on paper.
Before we ended the call though, she came up with a superb idea. "Why not do it in dialogue? You could have the volunteer be eating a Snickers Bar and ask her how she could eat with that smell." Aha! She'd hit on the perfect solution. Do it in dialogue!! In a short time I had that scene rewritten by including the smell of the place. Um, I didn't include the candy bar, though. The Snickers bar reminded me too much of...well, we won't go there.
Hmmm, now I wonder how many of my readers will actually be able to relate to that indescribable smell? Or is it undescribable? Off to find my dictionary...