Snarkling Clean

Snarkling Clean- because you don't have to cuss to make fun of stuff. Two dedicated readers discuss romance novels- from what made us weep with joy to what made us want to poke pencils through our eyeballs.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Help Me Out Here

I have a confession to make. Yes, I can hear you all whining, "Gad. Not another one."

But it really isn't a biggie: I have no sense of smell. Never have had one. I apparently had a few infections as a baby which 'burned out' part of my olfactory. I can't smell bread baking, or flowers, or candles. But then again I can't smell body odor or diapers or barf, so it hasn't been too bad. Except when my mom got great pleasure out of telling people that I didn't smell very good.

But it leaves me with a bit of a problem when writing. People are generally scent-conscious. I've read that a single smell can trigger memories and emotions from decades ago, which must be incredibly powerful for those who have experienced it. My eyes may start to water if my unbathed dog gets too close, but that's about the extent of it for me. I have to drag my husband through the perfume department, forcing him to smell me, right there in public, to see which scent he likes. He'll be the only one smelling it, anyway, so he may as well pick it out. So I don't include much about odor in my descriptions. I have to rely on what has been written or said by others.

Except there's not much there. A hint of cologne, or the stench of a decomposing body; that's about it. As I look on in wonder at you non-smell-challenged people, I have to ask why more writers don't make the sense of smell more important to their characters. There are BIG cliches in Romancelandia, as you might guess.

The hero always 'identifies' the heroine by catching her scent. Her scent. Like she has one, and one alone. Every woman I know has one or two good bottles of perfume for special evenings, and two or three Avon/Walgreen's bottles for everyday. Not to mention the small samples that seem to accompany every gift bag at any ladies' meeting. Fer crying out loud, I can't even smell and I have five sitting on my dressing table right now! My question is this- don't women smell different on any given day? Or smell more like a combination of all the scented crap they've poured on their skin? Soap- floral. Shampoo- citrus. Deodorant- Powder Fresh. Body lotion- Vanilla. Spray anything else on top of that and I wonder if the heroine's identifying 'scent' is a lot worse than she intended.

But heroes? Whether it's historical or contemporary, men seem to have just four choices. Sandalwood, leather, horses, and sweat. Sometimes the sweat is called, "man." I will be honest and tell you I don't even know what sandalwood is. Is it wood? Were these guys cutting down trees or something? If leather truly has a distinctive odor, wouldn't that make him smell like a couch or a car, too? I personally don't know anyone who yearns to take a deep cleansing sniff in a barn; even animal lovers will admit that beasts, while noble and admirable and lovable, stink. And sweat. Man. I thought that was what wives and girlfriends complained about while forcing their honeys to go change shirts.

So you people who smell better than I do (*rimshot*) give me some feedback. What are these authors leaving out? How many smells do you encounter in a day, and how does it affect you?


Blogger StarvingWriteNow said...

My sense of smell has always been acute, especially so when I was pregnant--I spent more time cringing away from stray odors (like unwashed hair--ick!) during those months.

People do have their own smells, to a certain extent, beyond the perfumes and soaps. But it's not something a hero would catch unless he was right on top of her, I wouldn't think.

3:58 AM  
Blogger Bernita said...

Excellent post.
I learned to turn my sense of smell off and on, because of babies, cat barf and the like - otherwise I'd be barfing myself.
I note smells, but ignore a lot of them. They register and are dismissed - unless it's something like wood-smoke - which might mean we have a problem, Houston.
People do have a basic, individual scent beyond the bath salts, body lotions, and colongnes.
But as Starving says, one has to be almost skin-sniffing ( dancing, elevator-jamed, etc. would do it) to identify it, in my experience anyway.
I usually take the "scent" business in novels in the English way, meaning favourite and habitual perfume used.
Many genre writers get cliched about body smells I think.
Very good topic, with many angles.

5:48 AM  
Anonymous quirkychild said...

That really interesting...I don't personally notice scents off of people, unless someone is blowing bad breath in my face, or if someone is sitting next to me and happens to be wearing nice perfume...but I've never come across sandalwood.

There seems to be an awful lot more bad scents in the world than good ones. At least that are noticable.

I agree that most "scent-stories" in romances are cliched and unrealistic.

9:49 PM  
Blogger December Quinn said...

All my heroes tend to smell like smoke, vanilla, spice, or any combination of those. Most of my heroines have a flowery kind of scent, because I think that's the way men tend to picture the way women smell.

One hero smelled like "good clean earth" to the heroine, a gardening enthusiast. I was rather proud of that one (of course, he also smelled of smoke and sweat too, but it's a medieval so I figure everyone smelled a little like smoke all the time.)

I do add smells, but I don't focus on them. If someone is cooking they'll smell the food. If they're in the woods they might smell dirt and trees and stuff--but smell isn't a big deal for me either.

12:46 PM  
Blogger Robyn said...

"good clean earth."

I like that. Evokes not just the way he smells, but a feeling. That kind of detail tells me a lot about the one doing the sniffing, too.

12:51 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Oh my gosh! Luuuuuuucckkyyyyy! You are so freaking lucky. My sense of smell is out of control. And it's directly connected to my gag reflex. And I change about 3 extremely poopy diapers a day.

7:54 PM  
Anonymous kis said...

Oh, my god, sometimes I think people with this affliction are lucky. In the Chinese place where I sling chow mein, we have a couple of regulars whom I have affectionately (sort of) dubbed "Bad Santa" and "Izma." (See the Emproer's New Groove for further info, but suffice to say, she's "scary beyond all reason").

In the sultry heat of a west coast summer, they enter the restaurant and sit at the one table that guarantees will travel to every other table in the place. Even those poor souls toiling in the back of the kitchen have been known to flee out of a healthy sense of self-preservation.

And that's not even mentioning all those cologne-emanating dirty-old-men and tarted up teenage girls, or my stepson, who evidently used to believe the think the way to get girls was to knock them unconscious through the sheer potency of your Drakkar Noir and then drag them home by the hair.

The wafting aroma of turkey at Christmas does much to make up for these assaults on my olfactory organ, but alas, Christmas only comes once a year (twice if you're lucky), and the malodorous universe is a burden every day.

Just think of all those terms that have become entrenched in the lexicon of modern folklore: low tide, rotten eggs, wet dog, B.O., and of course let's not forget "smells like fish, tastes like chicken." Uggh.

Okay, perhaps I'm being a bit negative, but hey, that's who I am today.

9:23 PM  
Anonymous kis said...

Ewww, Starvingwritenow, when my husband doesn't wash his hair, it smells like raw hamburger.

9:25 PM  
Blogger Robyn said...

As I said, it's sometimes a blessing. In my partying days, though, I was always tapped to clean up after the inevitable hurl. "But you can't smell it! You can clean it up!"

Yeah, like simply viewing it isn't enough for the gag reflex to kick in.

8:38 AM  
Anonymous Michelle said...

You are not kidding about the limited smells. I had my last hero smell like pine. That was about the best I could do. Peat just wouldn't work for me. :)

5:51 PM  

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