Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A Pleasing Aroma?

I adore light cotton Indian clothes. They are so pretty, cool and comfortable to wear.  Yet I rarely go into a shop that sells them.  Why? Because the majority of the shops selling them insist on filling the premises with incense and I can’t stand the overpowering smell of it. The after effects are not worth it. It makes me feel nauseous for ages afterwards. With some shops , and I am thinking of one in particular , I cannot even walk past it or go into any of the shops near it because of the pervasive smell.  I simply avoid that whole part of the shopping centre. My husband laughs. He barely registers the smell at all and doesn’t understand my problem. He obviously doesn’t have the same sensitivity to smell that I do. So if ever I get an Indian cotton skirt it is, because my darling husband has gone and bought it for me as he sometimes does for birthday or Christmas gifts. Then it gets hung in the breeze until the smell has disappeared from it.

The smell of flowers is another one that can be a problem. I love flowers, especilly if they are blue.
But there are two I cannot cope with. Gardenia and lavender both have a similar effect on me. I know many people claim lavender is calming and useful for relaxation. Some people sprinkle it on their pillows to induce sleep. Not in my household.  All lavender does is give me a violent headache. And as for eating lavender ice-cream and biscuits as I have read about in books, Never in a million year is that going to happen!

The whole sensitivity to smell issue started me thinking about how people react differently to things and how some smells leave a distinctly unpleasant aftertaste in the mouth.  Perhaps it’s no different with writing. What impression or aftertaste is left with readers after reading one of our blog posts or one of our books?

 Recently I read a novel which, while skilfully written, left me with a peculiar aftertaste. All I could think of was I was glad I had not lived with such a family of disagreeable and selfish people and why had I invested time in reading about such horrible people. That has actually been my reaction to a few novels lately, which is sad.

How much better it is to leave people feeling hopeful or feeling thankful for what they have. That doesn’t mean everyone in the story has to be so nice they come across as not real. That can be just as much a problem, as it is too sugary sweet.  It’s okay for characters to display negative characteristics. They need them so they are real and complex rather than one dimensional. It’s okay for them to have problems they need to work through. In fact without them and without displaying some negative characteristics at times there will probably not be much of a story. But the ending needs to leave the reader satisfied and feeling hopeful that the character has learned something. If a character doesn’t change at all during the course of a novel, then what is the point? That doesn’t mean it has to have a happy ending where every problem is solved.  Sometimes that can be unrealistic. Sometimes its better to leave some issues unresolved for the character to work on. But it does mean there should be a glimmer of hope and satisfaction.

Have you ever read a book and it’s not grabbing you but you keep reading, thinking it must get better. Then you get to the end and feel like throwing it against the wall. ‘What was the point?’ you mutter.

These days I rarely bother to keep reading unless a book involves me. All the pretty writing and beautifully constructed sentences in the world are not enough to keep me reading if I cannot engage with the characters. What we want as writers is for people to become so involved they don’t want to put the book down. They want to know about those characters and what happens to them even after the story is finished. A book that can keep people thinking about the characters after they have closed the last page is a treasure indeed.  Thankfully, I’ve read a few books like that. What a joy it is!  Isn’t that the type of effect we would like to have with our writing? I know it is with mine which is why I keep tinkering with the opening chapter and working so hard to get it right on my next novel, Sandstone Madonna. You can read a little about that work in progress on my blog. The same applies to the nonfiction project I’m working on. I need to get it right.

Don’t we want to leave a pleasing aroma behind us? In our lives and in our writing are we spreading ‘the fragrance of the knowledge’ of Jesus.  Whether we write fiction or nonfiction, poetry or prose I would hope we are ‘an aroma of Christ.’ That doesn’t mean that everyone in our books has to become a Christian but we should be able to show people who clearly live out their faith and how that affects the choices they make in life, as well as those who do not and the consequences of their choices.

Some of the books that have left a positive lasting impression on me recently for different reasons are Soul Friend, Tangled Secrets, The Greenfield Legacy, The Last Runaway, Unsaid, Love Anthony, Friendship Bread, One Breath Away, and Bethlehem’s Baby Warrior.  Some are aimed at the Christian market others are secular books but they all left a beautiful aroma and something to think about behind them. I’d love to hear what books have had that effect on you recently.
Streets on a Map, was published by Ark House Press. Prior to that Dale has had seven children’s books and Kaleidoscope a collection of poetry published.
Along with her husband, Dale was for a time houseparent for a family of twelve boys. She has also been a manuscript assessor and book reviewer and run creative writing classes. She has also written bible studies and Sunday school lessons. For several years she wrote about Christian living, marriage and home related topics for www.families.com. She has a BA in Literary and Australian studies. More information about Dale can be found at www.daleharcombe.com or on her Write and Read with Dale blog http://www.livejournal.com/users/orangedale/



  1. That is a very good point, Dale. I have read many books that leave a sour taste, especially ones of... 'questionnable' actions.
    In my own opinion (and I may get into trouble here!), I think all books should finish with a happy ending. Otherwise, what's the point? We may read stories about people's lives and their pain and 'strangeness' that goes on, but we want so much for a happy ending. For the hero/heroine to get their justice and joy and love they were desperately seeking. So yes, I agree that all writings should leave a 'pleasant fragrance' whether seccular or not. Because if we aren't writing to encourage, lift up and bring hope and joy to readers, why on earth are we writing?

    1. My husband had a chuckle when I told him my starting point for this post until I explained where I was headed with it. Being a reader himself, he agreed with me.Thanks for adding your pleasant fragrance of encouragement Jenn

  2. I love growing Tomatoes. However the scent from the bushes more so than the fruit causes me to get itchy eyes and running nose.

    I just hope, as all we writers hope (I guess) that our writing doesn't have that irritating effect on the readers. We do want to fragrance their lives or arouse their minds and challenge any conceits but not to turn them off from turning the pages.

    Thanks Dale for your words. I promise not to send you and lavender bags.

    1. My husband grows tomatoes too, Ray and while I love eating them I cannot go near the plants because they bring me out in a rash that nearly drives me crazy.We definitely don't want to have an irritating effect on readers.

  3. Lovely post, Dale. You just reminded me that's a sense I need to make use of. It's something we can easily leave out and yet it is so much a part of our world. So now I'm going to trawl through some of my manuscripts and check it out.

    And yes, we need that special aroma of God's grace in our stories.

    1. Experts claim sense of smell is the most powerful memory trigger so yes,it is one we need to utilise in writing, Rita.

  4. I, too, have a problem with incense - and tobacco and burning fall leaves. I avoid places where I may be subjected to those "aromas" - (noxious fumes).

    However the essence of roses, the wafting fragrance of baking bread, the welcome of spiced cider - those are aromas I can enjoy.

    Some of my friends love the scent of burning leaves or wood. In my writing I must remember that one size (or scent) does not fit all.

  5. True enough, Judith.Your last point shows up in the wildly different reviews and responses that occur with the same book from different readers. Sometimes it's like one reviewer has read an entirely different book.