My first drafts are pretty spare. I focus on characters and plot, dialogue and blocking. Setting details get added later. Internal monologue and reactions happen in the 2nd pass. Sensory details – like fragrances or flavors – are usually an afterthought. I’m trained as an artist, so while it’s easy for me to describe the look of something, I usually forget to include other sensory details until later. But they’re equally important. Scent can evoke memory. Taste can change a mood. Did your character just walk into a used bookstore? Maybe the scent reminds her of her grandmother’s house. Did your character just eat garlic bread? Probably not going to be kissing anyone anytime soon. What if your character is hard of hearing or has limited eyesight? The other senses will be that much stronger, and those details will stand out even more. Those little sensory details can build out a story and create a more 3-dimensional world for your reader to fall into.
I try to imagine what kind of soap or shampoo characters use, and what those fragrances say about them. I have a character based on the goddess Athena and you better believe her hair smells faintly of olive oil. The Aphrodite-based character smells of roses and apple blossoms, two symbols of the goddess. Her boyfriend smells like cedar, because he cares about his clothing and keeps cedar in his closet. When she first kisses him, he tastes like beer because he just worked a shift in a bar.
How do you add sensory details to your writing? Which ones are your go-to, and which do you tend to forget?