Can you smell it? How to use strong imagery like Natalie Kusz in “Vital Signs”!

color weapon

Imagery is a definite “choose your weapon” topic. I mean, you have five senses to choose from (or combinations of them). While sight and touch are present in many works, look at how Natalie Kusz appeals to the sense of SMELL in “Vital Signs”:

I was always waking up, in those days, to the smell of gauze soaked with mucus and needing to be changed. Even when I cannot recall what parts of me were bandaged then, I remember vividly that smell, a sort of fecund, salty, warm one like something shut up and kept alive too long in a dead space. Most of the details I remember from that time are smells, and the chancest whiff from the folds of surgical greens or the faint scent of ether on cold fingers can still drag me, reflexively, back to that life. . .

Smell has the power to take us back to certain moments–IMMEDIATELY! Now, while most of us don’t have an experience to match Kusz’, she takes us there and makes us feel as if we’re the ones lying in the bed, not her. Instant pathos, instant connection. We can picture the scene easily–someone lying in a hospital bed, recovering–but the smells sink it home. The impression given is that the person has been in this state for quite some time, and is not about to escape it anytime soon.

Try this:

Choose that street–you know, the alley you would NEVER walk down–and walk down it in your mind. It’s narrower than you thought, isn’t it? The air is different. And it’s not just the garbage, but the kinds of waste you’re walking through, AND the length of time it’s been there. Take five minutes and describe what you find in the alley. Use smell imagery as the STAR of your piece.

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