(To survey other elements and author quotes, visit the Elements of Fiction home page)

(All quotes by Diane Ackerman unless otherwise indicated)

“Smells coat us, swirl around us, enter our bodies, emanate from us.”

“Smell is a potent wizard that transports us across thousands of miles and all the years we have lived. The odors of fruits waft me to my southern home, to my childhood of frolics in the peach orchard. Other odors, instantaneous and fleeting, cause my heart to dilate joyously or contract with remembered grief. Even as I think of smells, my nose is full of scents that start awake sweet memories of summers gone and ripening fields far away.” Helen Keller

“Nothing is more memorable than a smell. One scent can be unexpected, momentary, and fleeting, yet conjure up a childhood summer beside a lake in the Poconos, when wild blueberry bushes teemed with succulent fruit and the opposite sex was as mysterious as space travel.”

“Smells detonate softly in our memory like poignant land mines, hidden under the weedy mass of many years and experiences. Hit a tripwire of smell, and memories explode all at once. A complex vision leaps out of the undergrowth.”

“Smell is the mute sense, the one without words. Lacking a vocabulary, we are left tongue-tied, groping for words in a sea of inarticulate pleasure and exaltation.”

“In The Place in Flowers Where Pollen Rests, novelist Paul West writes that ‘blood smells like dust.’ An arresting metaphor, one that relies on indirection, as metaphors of smell almost always do.”

“If there are words for all the pastels in a hue—the lavenders, mauves, fuchsias, plums, and lilacs—who will name the tones and tints of a smell?”

“Unlike the other senses, smell needs no interpreter. The effect is immediate and undiluted by language, thought, or translation.”

“Smells are surer than sights and sounds to make your heart-strings crack.” Rudyard Kipling

“My soul soars upon perfume as the souls of other men soar upon music.” Charles Baudelaire

“One of the real tests of writers, especially poets, is how well they write about smells. If they can’t describe the scent of sanctity in a church, can you trust them to describe the suburbs of the heart?”

“The body odor of his prey excites the predator so that his mouth waters and every fiber of his being becomes taut and every sense alerted. At the same time in the nostrils of the prey, fear and hate become associated with the body odor of the predator. Thus on low levels of animal life, a specific odor evolves along with and becomes identified with a specific mood.” Roy Bedichek

“Children like most smells until they’re old enough to be taught differently.”

“A mother fur seal will go out fishing, return to a beach swarming with pups, and recognize her own partly by smell.”

“Pheromones are the pack animals of desire (from Greek, pherin, to carry, and horman, excite). Animals, like us, not only have distinctive odors, they also have powerfully effective pheromones, which trigger other animals into ovulation and courtship, or establish hierarchies of influence and power.”

“The animals with the keenest sense of smell tend to walk on all fours, their heads hanging close to the ground, where the damp, heavy, fragrant molecules of odor lie.”

“Salmon can smell the distant waters of their birth, toward which they must swim to spawn.”

“We’re aware of smell, but we don’t automatically react in certain ways because of it, as most animals would.”

“Mice can discriminate genetic differences among potential mates by smell alone; they read the details of other animals’ immune systems.”

“Shopping malls add ‘pizza smell’ to their air-conditioning system to put shoppers in the mood to visit their restaurants.”

“Moistening, misting, and heaving, the earth breathes like a great dark beast. When barometric pressure is high, the earth holds its breath and vapors lodge in the loose packing and random crannies of the soil, only to float out again when the pressure is low and the earth exhales.”