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Flutterlight
02-26-2013, 09:30 AM
I have no sense of smell, but I realize that the vast majority of people can smell and smell is a large part of people's everyday lives. So my WIP's main character can smell things, and generally I can make up scent descriptions based on things I've read.

But I'm working on a scene that involves a four hour old corpse in a large trashcan behind a school. Is it safe to assume that the smell of school garbage would overpower the smell of the corpse? Or would a normal person be able to tell that something was wrong prior to digging through the trash?

alleycat
02-26-2013, 09:38 AM
Usually at a school or business there would be a dumpster rather than trash cans, I think.

I'm no expert, but I would guess that the smell from a four-hour corpse wouldn't be too bad unless it was a hot day (significant decomposition wouldn't begin until some time later). The smell from a dumpster is pretty bad anyway when the lids are open. With the dumpster lids closed no one would probably notice the smell of a fresh corpse during that time period.

In any event, I think you would be safe to use the fact that the corpse wasn't discovered by smell alone.

cornflake
02-26-2013, 09:44 AM
What happened to the corpse, what's the temperature outside, what's in the dumpster/trash? Where are we?

Generally, here, school trash (I live quite near a school) doesn't smell like anything, because they put it out the day it's to be picked up, like everyone else. If it's some area with a dumpster that holds trash for a week or whatever, yeah, probably smell more but trash is generally bagged and tied up.

Also, in general, a four-hour-old corpse isn't likely to smell like much of anything, unless it's feces and urine.

However - if the corpse isn't intact, someone could easily smell blood, especially in large quantity. It's a very particular scent. If it's very hot out, you may begin to get a whiff of decomposition, most likely if the corpse if not entirely intact in some way.

blacbird
02-26-2013, 11:27 AM
But I'm working on a scene that involves a four hour old corpse in a large trashcan behind a school. Is it safe to assume that the smell of school garbage would overpower the smell of the corpse?

Probably. A four-hour-old corpse will not yet have developed a strong aroma, unless exposed in a hot, moist environment. In a day or so, it would get bad, and overpower almost any trash odor.

caw

ClareGreen
02-26-2013, 11:28 AM
Agreed. Even a splatted cow takes a day or two to really start to hum.

Flutterlight
02-26-2013, 11:29 AM
Thank you for your help!

It'd be mid-September, somewhere between 57-65 degrees outside, in a back alley around 3:30/4 pm. There are around six large plastic trashcans (Something like this: LINK (http://www.restockit.com/rubbermaid-gray-brute-ergonomic-roll-out-containers-%28rcp9w21gra%29.html) which is what my high school used.) in an alley behind the school, so they wouldn't have been in direct sunlight for an extended period of time.

There is a significant amount of blood. So I'll probably have to rework the scene to factor that in. What does blood smell like?

cornflake
02-26-2013, 11:35 AM
Thank you for your help!

It'd be mid-September, somewhere between 57-65 degrees outside, in a back alley around 3:30/4 pm. There are around six large plastic trashcans (Something like this: LINK (http://www.restockit.com/rubbermaid-gray-brute-ergonomic-roll-out-containers-%28rcp9w21gra%29.html) which is what my high school used.) in an alley behind the school, so they wouldn't have been in direct sunlight for an extended period of time.

There is a significant amount of blood. So I'll probably have to rework the scene to factor that in. What does blood smell like?

That's a weirdly hard thing to describe, it seems, as I'm not sure I can. Kind of metallic? Hot and metallic when fresh (I know that sounds weird, smelling hot, but I'm not sure how else to describe it), and it will smell of decomposition faster than a whole intact body will, though not much in four hours in decently cool temps. I'd think you'd still get the metallic thing.

zarada
02-26-2013, 11:53 AM
hm. blood smells 'sweet' to me. kinda sickly sweet.

cornflake
02-26-2013, 12:05 PM
hm. blood smells 'sweet' to me. kinda sickly sweet.

Oooh, that.. too? Clearly this is not exactly my forte, sorry! I do agree with Zarada though.

sunandshadow
02-26-2013, 12:34 PM
If one of those school trash cans has the food remnants from the cafeteria, no one would be able to smell anything over the stink of those. Spaghetti sauce and old milk are particularly stinky. Blood smells like iron because it's got a lot of iron in it; sour/metallic and a little sweet. But normally people just say it smells like blood because pretty much everyone has bled in their lives so they would be familiar with the smell.

Flutterlight
02-26-2013, 12:41 PM
Thanks guys! This is really helpful, and way better than any of my attempts at googling this have been.

Buffysquirrel
02-26-2013, 03:47 PM
Depends on the age of the blood. The older it gets, the deader it smells. I literally can't go into a butcher's because the smell makes me sick. Best I can say is it smells fuzzy and dead. Like the old knickers you find under the bed.

StormChord
02-26-2013, 05:09 PM
To me, blood smells hot and metallic, with a slight acidic afterburn. A lot of blood smells very strong and distinctive; then again, my sense of smell is very sharp, so I don't know how obvious it would be to other people.

Four-hour-old blood will have congealed and would smell more dry than fresh blood.

Canotila
02-26-2013, 09:55 PM
Freshly dead and dying people smells like a weird gross sweet smell to me. It sticks in the back of my throat right where the gag reflex is and makes me want to throw up.

The closest thing I can compare it to is how gallbladder smells, sort of that innardy smell. It's very distinct. If someone was familiar with the smell of dead people they'd likely recognize a whiff from the dumpster right away. I know I would. If someone wasn't familiar with it, they might smell it if they're the type of person who pays attention to smells, but they'd probably assume it's just garbage.

Most people diving into garbage don't intentionally take a big whiff though.

mirandashell
02-26-2013, 11:08 PM
Like the old knickers you find under the bed.


Gak!

GeorgeK
02-26-2013, 11:32 PM
Four hours isn't enough time for smell to be the issue (unless the victim stunk when alive). What they would notice is an unusually large amout of flies.

sheadakota
02-26-2013, 11:50 PM
I just want to know how all you sick twisted people are so educated in describing the smell of death, decay, blood and rotting corpes:D I only ask because I am impressed.

GeorgeK
02-27-2013, 12:23 AM
I'm a retired surgeon and I live on a farm

sheadakota
02-27-2013, 12:26 AM
I'm a retired surgeon and I live on a farm

and that'll do it ;)

Canotila
02-27-2013, 02:09 AM
I just want to know how all you sick twisted people are so educated in describing the smell of death, decay, blood and rotting corpes:D I only ask because I am impressed.

I worked in a hospice and grew up on a farm.

When one of the residents was a couple of days from death, all the aides could smell it. You recognize the smell pretty quick. It was kind of handy because we were able to let the families know they should come in and visit quick if they wanted to say goodbye.

Flutterlight
02-27-2013, 08:38 AM
Freshly dead and dying people smells like a weird gross sweet smell to me. It sticks in the back of my throat right where the gag reflex is and makes me want to throw up.

The closest thing I can compare it to is how gallbladder smells, sort of that innardy smell. It's very distinct. If someone was familiar with the smell of dead people they'd likely recognize a whiff from the dumpster right away. I know I would. If someone wasn't familiar with it, they might smell it if they're the type of person who pays attention to smells, but they'd probably assume it's just garbage.

Most people diving into garbage don't intentionally take a big whiff though.

So then if somebody has PTSD and blood is a major trigger for them, they would at least experience some level of triggering from the smell even if it was covered by bagged lunch debris and they didn't recognize the scent at first?

Canotila
02-27-2013, 08:50 AM
So then if somebody has PTSD and blood is a major trigger for them, they would at least experience some level of triggering from the smell even if it was covered by bagged lunch debris and they didn't recognize the scent at first?

It's very possible. I have PTSD and smells are my biggest trigger. Before I got my service dog I would get triggered without consciously realizing I had encountered a trigger and have a seemingly random episode. After getting the dog (who alerts to episodes way ahead of time) I was able to start recording smells, situations, sights, etc. around me when he alerted and identify specific triggers. Now I don't even need a service dog any more, because once they were identified I was able to get desensitized to them.

cornflake
02-27-2013, 08:50 AM
So then if somebody has PTSD and blood is a major trigger for them, they would at least experience some level of triggering from the smell even if it was covered by bagged lunch debris and they didn't recognize the scent at first?

I'd say likely yeah - blood is a very distinct smell and you can smell it amongst other things pretty easily ime.

alleycat
02-27-2013, 09:01 AM
So then if somebody has PTSD and blood is a major trigger for them, they would at least experience some level of triggering from the smell even if it was covered by bagged lunch debris and they didn't recognize the scent at first?

To me, you're beginning to over-think this. Yes, there could be cases where a body could be discovered by smell by someone given your setup, but I think that for use in a story not having the body discovered for at least four hours is completely plausible (or even probable). Bodies are discovered all the time that have been in dumpsters or similar locations for a day or more. During that time other people probably came and threw trash in the dumpster and didn't notice anything.

Flutterlight
02-27-2013, 11:03 AM
To me, you're beginning to over-think this. Yes, there could be cases where a body could be discovered by smell by someone given your setup, but I think that for use in a story not having the body discovered for at least four hours is completely plausible (or even probable). Bodies are discovered all the time that have been in dumpsters or similar locations for a day or more. During that time other people probably came and threw trash in the dumpster and didn't notice anything.

It's established that the body is not discovered for four hours, until my MC starts looking through the trash on a whim. But given that my MC does have chronic PTSD, I'm trying to figure out if I should write the scene as if her triggering starts once she gets near/opens the trash, or until she actually notices that there is blood on some of the trash bags. Originally I wrote the scene so the smell of the trash completely overpowered any smell given off by the body/blood, so my MC doesn't start experiencing symptoms of PTSD until she actually notices the blood. Now I think I'm going to tweak it so she comes across as mildly triggered prior to seeing the blood but doesn't realize that's what's happening.

It's quite possible that I am over-thinking this, though. I very much want this to be a convincing story, but I have no way of knowing if I'm doing a decent job when it comes to scent descriptions.

ClareGreen
02-27-2013, 05:39 PM
She could very well find herself getting nervy and thinking about that time back in wherever, without actually knowing why until she finds the body. Scent does seem to be more hard-wired into the brain than the other senses are.

(I used to work in a high-speed train depot, which is how I know what splatted cow smells like over time - the animal was hit at around 125mph in my first June there, and the cab that hit was in the train shed for more than six weeks at the height of a hot summer. That smell is a thing of nightmares, and holding my breath when near didn't help as much as it should have.)

Eva Lefoy
03-01-2013, 10:19 AM
Stiffs:The curious lives of Human Cadavers is an interesting book and may be available from your local library. It details a lot of stages in the process..... http://www.amazon.com/Stiff-Curious-Lives-Human-Cadavers/dp/0393324826

Flutterlight
03-01-2013, 02:14 PM
Thanks! I checked my university's library, and shockingly they have it. I'll probably borrow it over Spring Break.