This morning, as my son hugged me big, he said, ‘You smell so good, you rival the aroma of bacon.”

Like so many across America, the guys in my digs worship the breakfast meat known to move grown men to create odes, comedy routines, fine arts pieces and better-living inventions inspired by wavy, fat-crisped, lip-slicking strips of smoky-pungent wickedness. If you ask a bacon-digging guy you know why he loves it, I bet he’ll say something about it’s smelling great while frying.  And it doesn’t have to be sizzling on the griddle for him to state that; he remembers fondly the olfactory experience.

It’s that “aroma recall” which can affect us equally as intensely when we read novels, although we may not give it a second thought.  Sure, we may rocket through a passage in a well-tended rose garden, and associate a sweet fragrance. But what of the more subtle, intimate scents that draw characters to one another, the natural and created aromas?  Not only do scents evoke memories and related emotions in us, but also we absorb characters’ scent memories and emotions as they relate to one another.  

Doesn’t make sense? Think paranormals in which mates “scent” one another. The author may use descriptives we easily associate, let’s say, a “summer rain” aroma. If the mates’ scenting always includes increased sexual arousal or protective instincts, we slap those understandings to our own whenever we read some form of the summer-rain descriptive in that novel.

Yet sometimes we develop associations with scents we haven’t experienced as we become familiar with certain sub-genres. For instance, one may never have smelled bergamot- or sandalwood-scented shaving soap, but I’d wager the initiated reader eventually associates it with a delicious-smelling hero in an English historical romance.

There’s always the possibility that an olfactory association is negative. I wonder whether in that case, it might affect the reader’s overall experience, and possibly color the way she feels about characters and storylines.  Perhaps even that, while unfortunate for the reader, is a sign of an author’s success, as effectively addressing and evoking each of our senses is a hallmark of good storytelling.

How does the description of scent affect your reading experience?  What are the “described scents” that have come to evoke certain emotions for you in a romance, or novels in general?


Dying for Romance?: Every day this month, meet and swap comments w/a different top romantic suspense author at BN’s Mystery boards as moderator Becke Davis celebrates Valentine’s Day with a Month of Romantic Suspense! Feb: 5 Carla Neggers; 6 Mariah Stewart; 7 JoAnn Ross; Val Day Special Guest: Suz Brockmann.

Michelle Buonfiglio writes daily about romance fiction at BN’s Heart to Heart and and Tuesdays at BN’s Unabashedly Bookish. Buonfiglio also authors the popular RBTB NEWs romance newsletter.



by Moderator becke_davis on ‎02-05-2010 01:12 PM

I just read an ARC of Lora Leigh's upcoming release LION'S HEAT. The Breed books have a continuing story line about "mating heat," that is often marked by the scent and smell of cinnamon and cloves. I love that image, because cinnamon and cloves make me think of Christmas and family times (not "heat," but I still think it's a cool image. Or should I say hot?)


Bacon. Geez, you had to say that. It's on my Things I Should Not Eat list, but I am a Woman of Little Will Power.

by on ‎02-05-2010 02:01 PM

Ok it's official.

YOU are the Queen of blog titles. Week after week you crack me up with just the title alone.


I put it this way if a book lacks olfactory clues, no matter what the genre, I like it less. Machine oil to autumn rain doesn't matter, I want to know what the character is smelling.


by Lisa_Kroener on ‎02-05-2010 05:34 PM

I did have very much contact with scents in books these last few weeks since we've intensively analyzed Süskind's "Perfume: Story of a Murderer" in our German lessons, so I'm still thinking very olfactorily, if I might say so. :smileywink: We had this verra strange discussion whether class scents (which it does for Grenouille, but in fact, it doesn't) where the nicest girl in our course (please note the irony!) vehemently argued that glass scents - it was all very senseless but, well, it made me think about scents, it really did.


I have to admit that I've never really payed much attention to scents described in a romance novel. I mean, I read that the hero scents of sandalwood or that the anti-heroine wears some stinking perfume, but there's really no scent I could say I remember because it gave me an intense feeling or anything. That might be because my nose is rather sensitive, I can't stand most perfumes and also don't wear any, so I'm not paying overly much attention to scents in general (unless someone stinks of sweat, raw meat - yes, I know quite a few people who reek of meat! - or alcohol and cigarettes). So I can't bring any examples, I'm so sorry! :smileysad:


~ LisaK

by lisadh on ‎02-07-2010 12:57 PM

Lemon-scented toiletry items make me think of romances.  So many heroes are befuddled by the lingering scent of lemons after his lady leaves.  It seems that more ladies used lemons back in the day than the more "traditionally romantic" scents of roses and lavender.  Due to cost perhaps?

by Moderator dhaupt on ‎02-08-2010 10:09 AM

Yes lisadh especially in historical romance. Just over the weekend I read Lady of Scandal and there the hero always identified the heroine by her faint lingering scent of lavender.


by Blogger Michelle_Buonfiglio on ‎02-09-2010 10:05 AM

becke, I absolutely was thinking of Leigh when I was writing this, as well as others.  The scents associated with mating in paras as well as reg'lar ol human interactions can totally up the intimacy for the reader when we hook into our frames of reference.


TiggerBear, you totally flatter me.  I must confess that I don't think I'm the first to use this riff on the Austen, though I may be the first to riff on the "and Zombies" title.  I'm just really glad you're entertained.  Dunno why, but it's fun to try to come up with punny titles/headings.  I like htat you include aromas/scents that aren't all pleasant,

by Blogger Michelle_Buonfiglio on ‎02-09-2010 10:11 AM

lisaK, I'm fascinated by the idea of someone reeking of meat! You've got to include that in a novel, though it probably won't work in a love scene...  yeah, the strong scents do equal 'evil' or 'foe,' don't they?  Those balls where the room stinks of unwashed bodies and the lecherous old roues stinking of cologne brush against the innocent debs...   I'm totally overwhelmed by scent, too, and I envy women who can wear perfume w/out getting migranes. 


Beverly Jenkins guest blogged at RBTB once and talked about how nobody had money during WWII, so the women wore vanilla extract as a scent,and the men loved it! 

per your class discussion, those 'senseless' discussions of lit are the ones that get us thinking the most, no? they always come back to haunt us years later. 

by Blogger Michelle_Buonfiglio on ‎02-09-2010 10:17 AM

lisadh, what a great question and observation. like the vanilla perfume.  That description of a guy's scent memory of lemon is a good one.  I wonder if that's an easy scent for guys to I.D. in real life?  I'm old enough to remember that when I was young some women still used really 'old fashioned' soaps scented with lemon and some herb I can't remember.  And last y ear I ws on a field trip to a prairie w/my daughter and the guide crushed some pods and said, 'here, smell this, it's bergamot." and I ws jazzed, because I got an idea what the shaving soap might have smelled like.


ah, deb, lavender. 

by Moderator becke_davis on ‎02-09-2010 10:51 AM

I have a friend who is an artist and crafter. One year she took tiny clay flower pots and made them into Christmas ornaments -- I can't describe how gorgeous and cool they were! She took tiny styrofoam balls and put them inside the pot, then filled them with "flowers" of different kinds. To make one of my favorites, she stuck cardamom seeds in the styrofoam ball after spraying it gold -- it smelled AMAZING. 

by amyskf on ‎02-10-2010 11:41 AM

I love reading about diff. scents in books -- because I love essential oils and use scents to suit -- or change -- my mood. And, unfortunately, I have smelled of meat. I was a hostess at a somewhat fast-ish steak house, I would go home with the scent of eau-de-heffer.


Tigger -- she really is the queen of titles.

by on ‎02-10-2010 04:51 PM

Ok now I wondering why you find the smell of machine oil unpleasant.

Ever smelled a cop up close; cordite, gun oil, leather, and coffee. Guys smell like their jobs. I like those smells.


amyskf - definitely!



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