Sunday, June 28, 2009

What does an alien hero smell of?

An alien romance might be a thinly (or heavily) disguised Western, or Historical, or "billionaire sheikh with harem" story.

I don't see anything wrong with that.

Moreover, every Romance has to answer at least four important questions:

1. (a) Who is the hero?
(b) Who is the heroine?

2. (a) What does he want?
(b) What does she want?

3. (a) Why can't he have what he wants?
(b) Why can't she have what she wants?

4. (a) Why does he want... whatever he wants?
(b) Why does she want whatever she wants?

One of the things that interests me about alien romance (and Romances where either the hero or heroine is not human) is the cultural conflict and the differences between one of "them" and one of "us".

The hero has to be convincing for his sex, time, place, situation, social status. An he has to be different from human heroes. Yet, he has to be reasonably attractive, interesting and compelling, because the reader must understand viscerally why the heroine doesn't mind having sex with him.

As Jennifer Dunne said "Write a hero you can fall in love with, and your reader will, too."

The alien hero may look like us. This could be because of parallelism or because of convergence. His species could have evolved to look like us because they prey on us and are more successful if they blend in until they strike.

Vampires are a great example. (Especially Margaret L. Carter's).

When an aspiring author does the contest circuit, she is almost invariably advised to use every sense in her writing. Not just the looks of him, or the sound of him, or the feel of him, or the taste of him (oh, my!), but also his smell.

What would a vampire smell of? Breath-mints? Blood? Soil? Sex? As part of blending in, he'd probably use human perfumes... I wonder whether the over-used aftershave would react differently with his chemistry.

Moving on....

Gargoyle body odor would be fun, wouldn't it? Have you sniffed any rocks lately?

Were-wolves! If he has a dog-like sense of smell, he's likely to be highly interested in his personal odors, as well as those of the heroine. We cannot leave it up to the heroine's nose to take care of all the smelling. The same applies to my god-Princes of Tigron who have seven senses, all of which are much more acute than human senses.

As long as a human heroine is sniffing the hero and reporting her observations to the reader, I suppose it is reasonable for her to translate his scents into fragrances with which her reader is familiar.

Personally, I find this description (of an alien hunk on an alien planet) a bit of a cop-out. "He smelled of horses, leather, and himself."

Does all leather smell the same? How many leather things do you own? Crocodile handbag, perhaps? (I don't!) Snakeskin boots? Cowhide on your car seat? Should an alien planet's horses smell like ours? I think I'd want to make it clear that their horses smelled a bit like the way ours smell but with bottom notes of some other animal.

Musk is an eternal favorite. Countless heroes smell of musk and get away with it. Isn't musk a secretion of... well, never mind... as long as the heroine and your editor finds the fragrance pleasant and exciting.

Best wishes,
Rowena Cherry

1 comment:

  1. I always found it interesting in the Dune books that all types of perfume, deodorant, etc were frowned upon. You smelled of yourself. Which sometimes is icky whether you like it or not.