Seductive Scent

While conducting research for one of my historical erotic romances, I studied the art of perfume making extensively. It’s an intoxicating lesson. As Mandy Aftel says in her excellent book Essence and Alchemy: A Book of Perfume, “Fragrance has the instantaneous and invisible power to penetrate consciousness with pure pleasure. Scent reaches us in ways that elude sight and sound but conjure imagination in all its sensuality, unsealing hidden worlds.  A whiff of a once-familiar odor, and memories surge into consciousness on a sea of emotion.”

It’s true, isn’t it? How many of us have unexpectedly caught the smell of something and been instantly brought to another time or place that normally lives sealed up in our minds. The memory slams into you with the force of a locomotive. Catch the smell of burning leaves and not only does it remind you of the start of a new college year, it places you right in the middle of campus. The smell doesn’t even have to be especially beautiful to conjure up happy memories. The smell of a wet dog might bring warm thoughts of childhood and giving the family pet a bath.

Scent often plays a starring role in the art of seduction. Just as foul smells repel, beautiful smells attract. There is nary a romance novel out there in which the author fails to describe the enticing smell of the hero – whether it’s the lingering scent of his shower soap or the natural smell unique to the dude himself. He may be ripe with “manly” smells – leather, smoke, the earth, even sweat – but he seduces the heroine with his scent and it becomes a part of who he is.

Breathing in a seductive scent transports our moods and emotions. As Aftel points out, “inspire” literally means “to breathe in.” Catch a whiff of a rose and it can make you instantly calm or happy. Catching the sexy smell of a handsome hunk can be like flipping on the arousal switch.

As a reader, I love it when the author incorporates scent into the description of her characters. It adds a dimension to who they are and provides me with another way to conjure them up in my mind. Sure, it helps to know that the hero is six foot two, sculpted like a statue and has raven black hair, but if I also know that the smell of horses or leather often lingers about him because this hero also happens to be a cowboy . . . well, now I’ve got that much more to work with. I know this guy because I can smell him.

Until next time,


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  • Liz Everly
    October 24, 2012 at 6:23 pm

    You are so right Elizabeth. I remember on of my writing instructors telling me that scent was the most powerful sense for evoking and pulling a reading in. Lovely post, as usual.

    • Elizabeth Shore
      October 24, 2012 at 7:11 pm

      Thanks, Liz! The perfume study was fascinating, and overall I find the subject of scent a really interesting one. Smell has a direct link to the limbic system in our brains – the one that controls moods and emotion. A powerful sense indeed.

      • madeline iva
        October 24, 2012 at 8:32 pm

        This is such a wonderful post! It made my day. I should definitely use the sense of scent more often.

  • Elizabeth Shore
    October 24, 2012 at 9:15 pm

    I’m so glad you enjoyed it, Madeline! I love thinking about scent as it relates to my characters. For me it’s an important element that helps them come alive.

  • Jenbug
    November 9, 2012 at 7:16 pm

    Thank you for reminding me how important scent is to a reader. I love it when a writer describes the smell of something, because it helps solidify the object being described, whether it’s a person or a building, or a time of year.

    • madelineiva
      November 9, 2012 at 8:02 pm

      Oh yes, Jen you’re right! And it’s not easy to do — it’s not easy to do well, is it?


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