It took me quite awhile to realize one of the secrets for engaging prose, and it turned out that the secret was to engage all the senses. In storytelling, sight and sound often feature heavily in the descriptions. After all, they are the primary senses used in absorbing a new situation. Particularly if you’re telling someone about them.
But one of the big things in memory and sensory connection involves the other three senses: scent, taste, and touch. In terms of overall effect, I’ve found that scent is probably one of the most powerful to introduce. In many respects, it’s changed the way I even look at scenes. I find myself asking what would be the first thing I would smell. It makes an enormous difference, and those little details tend to make the scene so much more vivid.
It’s tricky to do this in fantasy sometimes. The fruits, flowers, vegetables, spices, and so forth may not be the same as the ones here on Earth. In fact, in a good fantasy world, there will probably be a number of new scents. It’s important to work these in with other scents that the readers will recognize. After all, who would know what yen blossoms smell like? I know what they smell like in my head, but the truth is my readers won’t. I have to make sure that I convey this to my readers. That means I have one of two options. I can either describe the scent in detail when it’s appropriate, or I can use a scent that my readers will be able to imagine such as pumpkin spice or rose.
Obviously, you don’t want to overindulge on the olfactory. After all, it can only do so much, and it’s hard to find synonyms for smell, scent, and so forth. And it’s important not to filter the narrative. But with the proper balance, scent can be a powerful asset.