Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

March of the Cheerio Monsters

by Stephanie Black

Cheerios are such a staple of American toddler life that it’s always seemed strange to me that my three-year-old doesn’t like them. She’s never liked them. No Cheerios in a baggie at church for her. But now, her dislike has reached phenomenal proportions. Cheerios freak her out. So do Lucky Charms. Lucky Charms didn’t used to bother her, but she’s decided they’re too similar (the cereal part, not the marshmallow part) to Cheerios to be allowed. She sometimes calls Cheerios "Cheerio monsters."

She doesn’t even want a Cheerio or Lucky Charms box on the kitchen table while she’s eating. “Put it in the pantry!” she orders. A couple of spilled Cheerios on the table are cause for distress. And woe betide the fool who tries to eat a bowl of banned cereal while sitting too close to her. On one particularly crabby morning, she threw two of her siblings out of the dining room, with much screeching and yelling. The kids could have told her tough beans, they were going to eat their cereal at the table, but really, at 6:15 A.M., who wants to argue with a shrieking three-year-old, no matter how tyrannical she’s being?

What offends her so strongly about Cheerios? The smell. She hates the way Cheerios smell. (Ironically, she helped me create the Cheerio monster pictured above. Apparently Cheerios are OK as an art medium--they just aren't to be taken internally).

Smells can evoke powerful emotions (though I will say, I’ve never before known anyone to have a meltdown over the smell of breakfast cereal). Smells also are strong memory triggers. Ever had the experience when a particular smell reminds you of something from the past?

So don’t forget to use smells to help make the world of your novel real to your reader. Does your white-haired granny character smell like lilacs? Or, as she peels off her leather jacket, does she smell like motor oil and car exhaust? The smell of rain, the smell of a subway, the smell of barbecued hamburgers--what are your characters smelling? Give us an occasional whiff.

That’s my writing advice for the day. Cheerio!


11 Comments:

At 2/27/2008 12:52 PM, Blogger Jon said...

I've never liked the way Cheerios smelled, either. Froot Loops are the way to go!

 
At 2/27/2008 1:17 PM, Blogger J Scott Savage said...

Actually, Captain Crunch is the breakfast of champions. But I agree on the cheerios thing. I don't like the smell either. Who knew I was part of such an in crowd?

 
At 2/27/2008 1:38 PM, Blogger Jennie said...

There are more of us than I suspected who hate the smell of Cheerios. I hate the taste too, so I'm in total sympathy with your small tyrant. I also agree with you about the importantance of including smells in novels. In some novels the only odor ever mentioned is coffee, which evokes a pleasant sensory association for many people, but makes me want to up-chuck. I hate the stench of coffee and of peanut butter as much as your daughter hates the smell of Cheerios. Some smells are as important to setting the stage as visual descriptions are; some are specific to an area or a season, some evoke powerful emotions,and some mean different things to different people and are therefore important to the story. Some people might not mind a lingering hint of peanut butter on the hero's breath when he's about to kiss the heroine, but such a description would kill the romance for me. I love the scent of sagebrush after a summer rain; some people who have never experienced that wouldn't have any sensory recognition. Western fans would find it adds realism. I guess what I'm trying to say is take Stephanie's advice about adding smells to your writing, but be sure they are ones your audience can relate to in the way you intend.

 
At 2/27/2008 3:20 PM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

Good point, Jennie. Thanks.

 
At 2/27/2008 4:57 PM, Blogger Worldbuilder Robin said...

Cheerios are okay, I guess, but they taste much better with a couple spoonfuls of sugar on them. Especially if it's enough to make that syrupy stuff at the bottom of the bowl that's a combination of milk and sugar and is guaranteed to send kids into orbit on Saturday morning. Ah, memories...

On my next rewrite, I'll have to make sure I add some smells. I think I mentioned that the Library smelled like dust (you know, that dusty paper smell that can only bee from old books, or basements/attics filled with old books? Yeah, that). I wonder if I've done any more smells in my novel so far?

 
At 2/27/2008 5:01 PM, Blogger Annette Lyon said...

Great reminder! Smell is probably the most forgotten of the five senses in writing.

And I thought my preschooler was the only one who hated Cheerios.

 
At 2/28/2008 10:24 AM, Blogger MaryJo said...

My mom never gave us cheerios as kids so when I got older I tried them and thought "yuck!" To me they have a bland taste. I do like honey nut cheerios...
I have given them to my little boy when ge was 1..2 years old and he doesn't hate them but then again he dosent love them.
His favorite cereal is Fruit Loops and what ever mommy is eating for breakfast.

 
At 2/28/2008 11:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree as an avid reader that smells can be great in books, but make sure you don't over do it. I have read a few books lately where it seems all they talked about were the smells, and it got annoying. I got to the point where I wondered if anything else was going on besides the heroine smelling everything. It takes away from the story instead of adding to it when you go overboard.

 
At 2/28/2008 1:53 PM, Blogger Jon said...

Jeff: the problem with Cap'n Crunch is that it leaves the roof of my mouth sore. Am I somehow eating them improperly? (love the crunchberries, though!)

 
At 2/29/2008 3:33 AM, Blogger Marsha Ward said...

Ah, smells! A whiff of a certain soap whisks me back to Maracay, Venezuela.

In my current novel (which I'm sending out to critique readers when the ANWA conference is finished up--and I'm trolling for a male volunteer who likes Westerns), I use the scent of lilacs in the story. No white-haired granny characters involved with the smell, though.

Thanks for a good blog, Stephanie!

 
At 3/02/2008 11:12 AM, Blogger My Ice Cream Diary said...

This is great advice! I just wrote a post about smells and depression (aromatherapy) but I hadn't thought of it in terms of writing.

I'll never forget the day I ate a rotten peanut and was so excited because I had finally figured out that the old lady down the street smelled like rotten peanuts. =)

 

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