emma28's picture
emma28 November 6, 2013 - 8:57am

I am currently working on a new book where a man is found at the bottom of the stairwell and is dead.  Now I do have a description of the victim, but I want to describe the smell or odor when coming into the room.  The body has been dead for five hours and a determination has not been made yet whether he has fallen or been pushed.   Can anyone help?

ReneeAPickup's picture
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ReneeAPickup from Southern California is reading A truckload of books November 6, 2013 - 9:09am

I've been around a lot of corpses (yes, that's what I said)... It's really indescribable, but I would go with words like "pungent", "sickly sweet" in a new death. 

ETA: If you're going for realism, it migh smell like shit and piss, too.

Dino Parenti's picture
Dino Parenti from Los Angeles is reading Everything He Gets His Hands On November 6, 2013 - 11:26am

Renee beat me to the shit/piss thing, which can be an unfortunate consequence of sudden trauma, but she's also been in the military, so I'd heed her advice. 

Flad the Imposter's picture
Flad the Imposter November 6, 2013 - 11:41am

That, and, an emergency medical responder told me once that if winter sludge could have emotions and share them with us by scent...it smells like what the sadness would smell like.

Pete's picture
Pete from Detroit is reading Red Dragon November 6, 2013 - 12:27pm

whaaaat?

Utah's picture
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Utah from Fort Worth, TX is reading Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry November 6, 2013 - 12:34pm

Honestly, I'd stop the car next time you see road kill and get a whiff.  Awful, but If you need it for the reality of your story, it's much more realistic than advice we could give you on the interwebz.

ReneeAPickup's picture
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ReneeAPickup from Southern California is reading A truckload of books November 6, 2013 - 4:09pm

To be clear: Yes, I encountered the corpses in the military, but no, it was not on the battlefield. I don't want anyone to think I'm claiming to be a combat vet and/or being flippant about those deaths. I worked at the office in charge of starting the Marine Corps Personell Retrival program which was, at the time, Mortuary Affairs. I was a desk jockey, but my supervisor made me go to all the morgue visits with the students.

Tim Johnson's picture
Tim Johnson from Rockville, MD is reading Notes From a Necrophobe by T.C. Armstrong November 6, 2013 - 5:12pm

My lady, who is a forensic scientist and has worked with medical examiners, tells me that, at five hours, it probably wouldn't smell too bad, depending on the circumstances. At that point, decomp hasn't really started. Of course, if it's really hot or there's another environmental factor that would speed up the process (such as exposure to sunlight), you might smell it.

Regarding the poo and pee situation, that does happen, but again, it depends on the circumstances. Bodily fluids will evacuate due to gravity. So, that might depend on the positioning of the body, as well. If he's at the bottom of a stairwell, he might be on his head, or his body may be crumpled in such a way that his bowels may be intact.

So, you might smell nothing but the moldy, dusty smell of the stairway.

Dave's picture
Dave from a city near you is reading constantly November 6, 2013 - 6:27pm

I've been around bodies just dead to months old. Tim has it nailed, at five hours, depending on heat and body position, it's likely body fluid that will smell.  This can also include stomach acid, and once, brain or spinal fluid, which was a peculiar scent. 

Dino Parenti's picture
Dino Parenti from Los Angeles is reading Everything He Gets His Hands On November 6, 2013 - 8:39pm

Renee:  It certainly didn't seem at all like you were being flippant about those deaths. Also, I hope anything I'd said didn't imply anything other than admirable and respected service. I simply figured that if anyone knew aside from the medical field, it would be someone who'd been in the service.

ReneeAPickup's picture
Class Facilitator
ReneeAPickup from Southern California is reading A truckload of books November 6, 2013 - 9:59pm

Dino -- You didn't do anything wrong! I just didn't want to see me saying I had encountered a lot of dead bodies, and then see a reference to my military history and assume I had been in combat, alas, I have not. I'm just very careful about not letting people believe that, as it's almost assumed that if you were in the military in the last decade, you were in combat. I don't want to take anything away from people who've actually BTDT (including my husband). 

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated November 7, 2013 - 8:00am

If they bleed a lot you get a coppery metallic scent, sort of like tasting a penny.

Kristi's picture
Kristi from Connecticut is reading Anything I can get my hands on! November 7, 2013 - 1:33pm

@Utah: My thoughs exactly, everytime I mouse over this threat I think of road kill!? Filthy disgusting almondy roadkill?! But I would also have to agree that it would take a while to get to that point! Even when you gut a deer and leave it hang it doesn't smell that bad-- Not that I  personally have gutted a deer, but my dad is "the great white hunter!" So we used to have deer and turkeys n' such hanging in our back yard all the time!

napow27's picture
napow27 from Tampa is reading How to Survive in a Sci-fi Universe November 8, 2013 - 4:56am

The smell invades your senses and you don't know whether to gag, vomit or pass out or do a three-fer.  The smell is similar to old pork laying in the middle of a 98 degree Florida road for three days, run over a million times, pooped on by a hobo and a baby and sugar sprinkled all over it.  Yeah that is about right, sounds delicious. Each smell comes at you in different segments and volumes.