Yesterday, the annual bombardment of perfume and cologne samples clogged my mailbox, slipping from glossy Black Friday ads like seduction bombs delivered by the cosmetic industry. Here’s the thing: as a writer, I save every one of them.
Remember how I always say that music is the short cut to Storyland? If music is the short cut, fragrance samples are the high-octane vehicle that gets me there. Sure, some smell more like the inside of a heiress’s steamy regrets, but sometimes I am able to attach just the right scent to just the right character and magic ensues. One whiff, and I’m right there with that imaginary character.
So in celebration of this olfactory phenomenon of writing (and because some of you may be considering purchasing a fragrance for a loved one – don’t, please don’t – that never works out), I give you the latest four that just tumbled from my mailbox:
Estee Lauder – Modern Muse
Aside from the writerly squees that occurred to me at this perfume’s title and the pitch line: Be an inspiration, this scent is one of your rich characters. Heels most of the time, the target market of every DeBeer’s commercial and just a hint of spice to indicate she moonlighted as a high-priced escort to pay her way through college. No PTA mom here. This chick will cost your hero. And betray him.
Coach – Poppy Wildflower
This character is a kindergarten teacher before she has crayola paint and boogers smeared on her skirt. She’s your little sister, Taylor Swift and Paris in the sunshine all rolled into one. You adore her initial sweetness, but it suffocates after a time. Like headache suffocate.
Ralph Lauren – Romance
Seriously, could this fragrance be any more targeted to my demographic? The ad even portrays a hunky guy and a woman trotting side-by-side on twin white horses. He leans over for a smooch, but kisses her eyeball instead. To so boldly proclaim that these notes of odoriferous emanation will deliver romance is a heady promise. What does it truly deliver? The perfect balance of everything, with not too much of anything but the glue meant to hold the sample closed. It’s like the Switzerland of Romancelandia. Kinda forgettable. Except for the eyeball kiss. And at $91 for 3.4 ounces, I would have expected something more. The UPS guy, for instance, to give an eyeball kiss upon delivery. Something.
Donna Karan – Cashmere Mist
Oh, wow. The name is already trying too hard, right? It’s like someone shoved a Harlequin novel into a phallic bottle. No man on this ad to suggest anything more than a scent, which is a good thing. This one is your futuristic antagonistic heroine who rose to too much power and must now be taken down. She doesn’t live entirely in her steel-and-glass fortress. Every now and then, she ventures out into the cashmere mist to frolic with squirrels.
Bottom line, don’t throw the samples away and don’t sniff them to death. Even if you dislike the scent, you never know when it will be the perfect connection to a character.
What do your favorite (or not-so-favorite) characters smell like?
When considering a villian’s leverage on a protagonist, which is more effective: the character’s greatest want or greatest fear? To exploit what the hero wants most drives them to make blind choices and keeps them ultimately responsible for their own decisions. It allows the author to take that one fatal character flaw and draw it out in tragedy. The story, is then, driven, by the protagonist’s supreme desire to achieve their goal.
If the villian uses the main character’s most basic fear against them, the reader connects on a deeper emotional level, especially if that fear is a universal one driven by the same values and desires humanity shares. It does, however, make for a weaker potential for character growth–a somewhat superificial reactive character that yields a less satisfying read. Yes, the hero ultimately overcomes their greatest fear, but are they as human as they would be had we seen them succumb to the baser desires that drive us all? The mistakes that reveal the most about the human condition?
“The creative power, which bubbles so pleasantly in the beginning of a new book, quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape, keep one at it more than anything.” ~Virginia Woolf