Olfactory Imagery & Out-of-Character Moment— A-to-Z Blog Challenge, Literary Terms

OWhen you think of tough letters, your first thoughts are Q, X, Y, Z…but O? O my God, this was a tough letter to find words for. There are words, but to do what I’m trying to do, nothing good. I finally found something interesting that I think will knock your socks off, but I would prefer if you kept your feet in the air while you read this. And if you’re not wearing socks, can you slip them on first? Thank you.

Today I am doing Olfactory Imagery and Out-of-Character Moment

You know the drill, give you the words, link them together (somehow) and you let me know what you think. Great fun for everyone.

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Olfactory Imagery

Olfactory. You know, like that old factory down the way? Not quite. Olfactory, better known as Olfaction or Olfactics, is the sense of smell. Well then, why didn’t you just say that? I don’t know. That’s what they call it.

I won’t be going into why we smell or what it is exactly, but I will be discussing imagery. Of course when we say the word imagery, our first thought is visual images. However, there are several types of imagery:

Visual – sights
Auditory – sound
Olfactory – odor
Gustory – taste
Tactile – touch
Kinesthetic – movement/action
Organic – feelings of the body: hunger, thirst, fatigue

So Olfactory Imagery is the use of vivid descriptive language to add depth to the scene through smells. This one is often ignored, as we are constantly smelling, but often don’t think about it. Because of that, we often proclude it from our stories.

I want you to think of a warm summer day. There are trees around you, freshly cut grass. Off in the distance is a house with a window open and a woman inside making an apple pie. Now you can picture all of that, now apply a sense of smell to it. You smell the fresh open air, the smell of freshly cut grass, and the smell of apples cooking.

Now, going from just visual imagery to include olfactory imagery, did you enjoy the experience more? Most people do, and if they can apply a smell with the images they see, then the reader of your story will feel there with the characters.

Now the thing about any senses is our connection to our memory. Our memories are linked by emotions and sensory stimulation. A powerful one is smell.

Interesting enough with Implicit memories of stimuli, conscious recollection of the initial encounter is not needed. Meaning that whatever memory attachment is associated with the scent, you do not need to be consciously aware of it. Basically that is the definition of Implicit Memory is your brain storing a memory of something you don’t specifically try to remember.

With implicit memory, memory of a stimuli is shown to be aided by previous experience to that stimuli. However, the memory tends to remember smells that are, shall we say, uncommon. The more exposure you have to a smell, the less of a memory attachment you have to it. Think of the smell of an orange or vanilla. Then think of the smell of your car. Harder to picture your car, say compared to an orange. Your car has a smell, but since you are exposed to it everyday, there is less attachment you have to that memory connection.

*Note: I’m not saying your car smells bad, I’ve never been in your car. I’m saying that everything has a smell.

To further understand this, we must address the amygdala. The amygdala is set of neurons in the brain that is responsible for the formation of memories of emotional experiences. When you receive stimuli, your brain will analyze it to determine a response to it. As it is doing that, it will send the stimulation to the amygdala. If the amygdala recognizes the emotional response, it will activate a millisecond before the rational part of your brain is able to, effectively hijacking the brain.

Ever hear a joke so funny that laugh as hard as you can, and when you are done, you have to think about why the joke was funny. This is an example of amydala hijacking.

Because of this, smells can affect our moods. Every go to a real estate agent and smell fresh baked cookies…even if there is none to be found. This is done to give the idea of your environment being comfy and livable. Makes you more agreeable that you want to buy a place.

So a scent can trigger a memory and can trigger an emotion. You can thank your amygdala for that.

Now we can actually smell fear. We don’t realize it, but we can become afraid due to the smell of fear. In fact, your sense of smell increases as you are afraid. Not all memories from smells are good ones, and can often lead to bad ones.

This is important for several reasons. While reaching out to your readers to describe an environment will help put them with your characters, “Sally could smell the strong smell of chlorine as she climbed on the diving board”, it can also trigger a memory for the character, “Sally suddenly thought of the first time she went swimming as a child, one of her first memories,” which can often lead to something traumatic, “Sally as a baby jumped into the deep end of the pool while her mother wasn’t looking and nearly drowned. Because of that, she always tensed up around water.”

Think about the smells in your story and whether or not they evoke emotions for your characters, or are a gateway for your readers.

Out-of-Character Moment

If you’ve ever done Roleplay online or with a Pen and Paper game, you will be familiar with this concept. For those not familiar, when you play your character, there are actions that you take as a player and actions you take as your character. Often times there are things you know as a player that your character doesn’t know. When you start using your knowledge as a player for your character, is is considered Out-of-Character Roleplaying. It can also be when you need to discuss something with another player that is not part of play as your character.

When it comes as a literary term, is something else. Sometimes people will surprise you. You think you know them very well and you can figure out what they would do in any situation, and yet, still manage to surprise you at an unexpected time.

Characters are much the same way, even for a writer. Your character may do something that is outside their own character that comes as a surprise. Usually it is brought about by a stressful situation or a life and death moment. This can be a result of just snapping and not caring. It can also be a Character Building moment.

An immediate example where this was parodied was the movies Spaceballs. Princess Vespa is handed a gun, to which she barely holds citing she doesn’t like guns. Until of course her hair is singed by laser fire. Then she went all Rambo’y and killed everyone.


Probably a better known example is the film Spaceballs was primarily parodying, which was Star Wars. In a New Hope, Luke was getting ready to fly off to fight the Death Star and Han Solo was looking to leave as quickly as he could to pay Jabba the Hutt. As we know, Vader was honing in on Luke ready to fire when Han came in and saved the day, so Luke could complete his mission. Based on the clues of the film, we know this to be Out of Character for Han, especially since there was no money to be gained.


This trope can also be used to denote the character being serious about something. It is specifically called, “OOC is Serious Business”. In this instance, the character has a strong trait in which they are known for, and during a key moment of the story, they act outside their character. Usually in response to something bad is happening or something bad is about to happen.

A good example is the show Burn Notice with character Sam Axe. If there is one thing we know about Sam, is that he loves his Mojitos. And if he can’t have that, then a good beer will hit the spot. More than that, he is a borderline alcoholic as he looks for any opportunity to drink. There are at least two occasions when he refuses to drink beer. This first is when he’s asked to escort Madeleine to safety, to which she at first is blowing him off and offers him a beer. He refuses to which she begins to take him seriously. There was also a conversation between someone whom Sam hated and Madeline, and she complained about Sam’s drinking problem. Sam’s “Buddy” stated that Sam always drinks, to which Madeline states it’s his not drinking that worries her.


This is a good technique to emphasis importance of a situation, to flesh out plot, and to do character building. The challenge comes in the implementation. If you have a running series and you showcase your character’s trait, then when they act out of character, then it becomes obvious for your reader that something is up.

However, if you want to use it and it is your first novel, or you only plan to do one novel, then you have to really showcase the trait, and rely on character dialogue to set up the shock value of the situation.

Olfactory Imagery & Out-of-Character Moment

To master these two terms, it comes down to, attention to details. Any time we use imagery, we have to be mindful of all the tiny details to what we’re describing, but to add an element of smell to it requires even more attention to details. Same thing with OOC, in that we need to know the details of the character all the way down to any annoying ticks they have.

As they say, the devils in the details, and the best way I find to get all the details is to imagine myself there. There isn’t always a need for us to describe a smell or to have an OOC moment, but when we need to, we need to be mindful on how we do it.

robot devil

Describing a smell, we should cater to the audience more than to our characters. We shouldn’t describe a smell as the putrid smell of glibork. Rather use a reference our readers can connect with. The smell of peppermint and garlic floating on the air, dancing up to my nose.

With OOC, we need to set it up early on what specific characteristic they have. Such as Jean Luc PIcard being a civilized, calm, diplomatic that is established in the entire series run up to the point in First Contact that he is thirsty for vengeance against the Borg after they took away his humanity.


These elements can add spice to your story and make for some really great moments.

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