Sunday, 31 May 2009

Alpha Scents

I try to remember to engage all five senses in my writing but for some reason I always struggle when it comes to describing how my hero smells. I have my stock favourites that I trot out but often feel I put them in just because I know I have to write something. 
There's 'musk' which sounds uncomfortably close to musty and makes me think of moths. Or 'citrus' - a nice, safe scent and not too feminine. But I rarely stop to ask myself if I actually want my hero smelling of lemons. I just grab it and put it into my text so I can tick the hero smell box on my list!
With all the talk in forum and blogland about cliches I can't help thinking I've invented a new one - I write smell cliches.

So what does an alpha male smell of? Sweat? Engine oil? Or that old favourite - 'man'. Whenever I read that I want to ask 'But what does man smell of'??? 
I suspect the irresistible scent of an alpha is actually pheromones but as I don't know what a pheromone smells like I decided to google my husband's after-shave, a scent I particularly love. Its manufacturers describe it as having a deep amber note so I thought okay, I'll try amber but that just made me think about traffic lights :-) and the after-shave's other components were all too technical to ever be written into a sensuous scene.

So I'm left with "She inhaled his scent, it was a musky scent with a deep note of amber and the faintest overlying hint of citrus". Total and utter gobbledegook :-) Or, to be blunt, writing crap at its best.

Any writing advice gladly welcomed on this subject otherwise I run the risk that ALL my heroes are going to smell of an identical citrus scent :-)

P.S. I don't have a problem with my heroine's scent, it's just my hero!


Jackie Ashenden said...

I think this is a case of one woman's yuck is another's total turn on. I don't like citrusy scents so my heroes don't smell of citrus. But I DO like musky-type of scents - it doesn't have any unpleasant connotations for me. I like woody smells like sandalwood or cedar too. For my heroes I sometimes use 'natural' smells sheets that have been dried in the sun. You know that smell? Yum. And salt after a swim in the sea. And the kind of clean, refreshing smell of rain or springwater. And there's a very nice - very Kiwi - smell which is the bush on very hot day. All sort of spicy and woody. Or woodsmoke is evocative too.
Oooh, snow too is a good one. And it's not so much that snow smells, it's more the fresh, very cold, sharp, clean scent you get on a snowy day.

Hmmm, I appear to have gone overboard here! Probably because the sensual part of romance is very important in my writing - touch, taste, smell. It's all part of it. Smells are tricky because they're very particular - someone might love the smell of dog because it reminds them of good feelings associated with dogs but someone else might hate it. I think you have to go with what you like. And not limit yourself to fruit! :-)

Romy said...

Lorraine - I'm with you on finding this difficult. I loathe those lines where men are described as smelling like 'themselves'. It may have sounded good for the first few thousand times it was used, but now it's such a cliche.

Jackie has some great ideas. I really like the idea of having someone's smell give rise to a 'connotation' rather than a specific scent. For me, one of the best scents ever is the smell of earth just after the rain.

Suzanne said...

Jackie - I agree with Romy, that was a terrific summary of man smells.

I'm hopeless at smells - have been trying to come up with something for my current heroine to react to with no success.

In real life there's nothing better than a man who smells nice. And if I ever met a man who semlls like a Vanilla Truffle, I'd knock him flat in the rush...but that doesn't sound very hero-like.

Rachael Johns said...

Very interesting discussion and I think Jackie is spot on. Something that's a pleasant aroma to one woman is an awful odour to another. I guess that means looking inside your heroine and finding what particularly flicks her switch.

Love some of those scent ideas Jackie - I MUST remind myself to use the senses more cos they do make a story seem so much more real!

Jackie Ashenden said...

Thanks guys.:-)

Oooh, Romy, yes, that smell is fantastic! Sort of earthy and woody.

Suzanne, I think you can use vanilla. Why not use that for your current hero? Vanilla is a taste as well as a scent and brings to mind all kinds of delicious things...Mmmm, yum... ;-)

Sorry to take over your post, Lorraine! I'm just such a fan of detailing all the sensual inputs when it comes to my heroes. As Rach says, it does make them more real and immediate.

Lorraine said...

No apologies necessary Jackie, I shall try to think outside the box :-)
Thanks for letting me know your thoughts everyone, it's good to know I'm not the only one who struggles with this. I shall try to think about the smells I like in general and decide whether or not they're masculine.

I like Rach's idea about thinking about what my heroine would like. V. good point - it's the heroine's story after all!

Judy Jarvie said...

You're totally right Lorraine. Pongs are a dificult one. Feels like they should be easy but they're not.
Why are yuk smells so easy and fab smells so hard...his hint of lunchtime egg sandwich had her salivating...

Lorraine said...

Like the line Judy :-) Have gone for a smell that I'm not entirely happy with but decided I couldn't keep 'hint of citrus' in after this post!