[Think Aloud] – #15 – Not All Fictional Men Smell Like The Great Outdoors

Think Aloud explores book-related discussions encompassing reading, writing, blogging, and perhaps newsworthy content. The focus is to push the boundaries, stretch the mind, and encourage dialogue within this community. Let’s all think out loud.

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Table Topic:
Not All Fictional Men Smell
Like The Great Outdoors

Abstract:

All fictional male characters walk around with the same scent when they shouldn’t be.


Thoughts:

Yep, this discussion is happening.

And nope, I’m not promoting you to get high off sniffing your book.

Every individual has their own unique scent for reasons of biology, culture, or simply by choice. However, it is without fail that many fictional boys and men smell like musk, wood, or spice in their off-camera (page?) use of aftershave, deodorant, or cologne. It doesn’t even matter if they’re living that contemporary boy-next-door life or scaling walls and shit in a dingy post-apocalyptic wasteland. They all seem to find their way to the same drug store and purchase the same generic brand (or perhaps naturally smell this way—but we all know it came from a bottle). I’m not even going to try to explain how sci-fi/fantasy/dystopian male leads trail these aromas when they dig themselves out of grime or drift in space all day long. This issue is most resilient in contemporary-ish fiction and is the scope of this discussion.

Now don’t get me wrong; I am by no means saying that these fragrances are terrible or attack your senses in all the worst possible ways. Instead, I’m fascinated by the sheer number of characters emanating the same few scents. There are three considerations as to why this might be (although I implore you to find more reasons to validate men smelling like similar fragrances):

1—Maybe these characters aren’t actually exuding musk/wood/spice but are misclassified as such.

2—Perhaps these scents are written to pander to the author or reader’s fantasy and is seen as normal even if it sexualizes boys/men and encourages the code red alert for endorphins to explode the readers senses.

3—It’s a rite of passage that male characters have to smell this way. I’d be flabbergasted if this was true…but given your responses to last week’s topic discussing the clichéd phrase (“I let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding”), it makes me wonder if these fragrances are what makes knees go weak.

Realize that there are thousands of different fragrance combinations between young desperation and Axe to Old Spice and something your grandparents wear; not to forget that the choice of these scents differ depending on temperature, event, and seasonal factors.

Truthfully, there are guys who couldn’t care less about how their outward presence is absorbed by their audience—and that’s fine—but there are those who do. To continually perpetuate this no-name brand of angst-ridden musky-whatever fragrance donned by all male archetypes is something that I can’t say is too realistic. This entire discussion might not be a concern to you as these descriptions are [probably] tailor-written to be fantasized and swooned over but I need to reiterate that not all boys or men exude the same scent or own/use products to replicate such a fragrance.

Think about this: some guys choose to not wear deodorant—where’s that character? 

How about those who sweat excessively and receive botox treatment—where’s the representation in that?

I understand it’s a description (and distinction) tacked onto a character to increase their unique appeal but you cannot tell me that every brooding, misunderstood, crooked smiling, tall-dark-and-handsome, blue-eyed boy-next-door Adonis ought to be typecast into the same few adjectives.

Ugh, rant over.


Afterthought Prompts:

1) What are some words you’ve seen used to describe how guys smell in fiction?

2) Do you think these scents (woody/musky/spicy) are what readers fantasize about?

3) I’m curious: is this treatment the same for female characters? What are some common scents you’ve seen attributed to girls?

As always, think aloud.                                                                   

Cheers,
Joey

connect: afterthoughtAn // twitter  |  anotherafterthought // goodreads

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Post Inspiration:

If I were you, I’d question my sanity for amusing myself with content like this. Normally, I would have these ideas filtered by a beta reader but what the heck; a topic worth smiling over is a topic worth sharing.

Also fun fact: I bought a bottle of Adam Levine’s line of cologne. It’s a disappointing scent but the bottle is a microphone… #takemymoney #damnyoumarketing

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46 thoughts on “[Think Aloud] – #15 – Not All Fictional Men Smell Like The Great Outdoors”

  1. And I can’t stop laughing right now.

    I have to agree with you on all of this. As much as I love my smutty, swoony books – my cheese radar goes off the charts when a description of how ‘woodsy’ the guy smells gets thrown in there. When the woman just LOVES to inhale his MANLY scent. Please, come on. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good whiff of RL Polo once in awhile, but that is not what gets me all hot and bothered. And I’d like to hope that every dude is wearing deodorant unless they’re Amish. Just allow me to have that one.

    And I don’t ever recall a woman’s scent being mentioned in a book. Ever. It’s all about making the male character desirable, and it doesn’t work for me. A male character’s personality and banter is what makes me swoon – not how good they smell.

    NAILED IT, JOEY! Thank you for always making my day with your rants.

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    1. …off to Sephora to find this RL Polo scent.

      I think I’ve read before that individuals from some cultures don’t use deodorant for [reasons]. I can’t say whether or not it’s true though. But it just goes to show that NOT everyone wants to smell like a tree bark.

      I find it interesting that there’s less representation with scent-whiffing based on gender. I get that different readerships want different things but WHERE’S THE EQUAL TREATMENT?

      Omg. I just realised that I didn’t touch on “liberal application” of scents; meaning, everyone “smells nice” to a certain extent but never drenched in their perfume (which, obviously, happens more than it should in public).

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I think this is one of the most stereotypical things tagged onto fictional men characters! They’re described this way to make them seem more attractive as our minds are set on attractive males being those that smell like heaven. Then there are those male characters that are constructed to be not so likeable and these are tagged with no nice smells sometimes has I’ve noticed a couple of times in books. I totally agree with your opinion and it think that as much as scents such as these make males seem more appealing, we should have our fictional men portrayed as more ordinary humans – realistically we don’t naturally smell like amazingness.
    And females I think have particular scents also, such as floral and fruity scents, especially those such as vanilla.
    This is a very interesting topic and I enjoyed it very much.

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    1. Haha. I think I’d be more okay with fragrances if it wasn’t just like “oh this office worker smells woodsy”, “this guy who just swam in a pool with chlorine smells woodsy”, “this guy who works at a coffee shop smells woodsy”. I’m literally bashing my head on the table now.

      But yeah, where are all the non-scents, gross-scents, or even just diverse scents. You cannot tell me that you haven’t walked around in public and got hit by cologne/perfume overload.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. You’re funny (in a totally endearing way) when you rant like this. (THERE. I said a nice thing.) But, honestly, I haven’t encountered much of this in the books I’ve read so far. The only ones that come to mind are Theodore Finch (woody) and Four (although I forgot what was his descriptor). BUT I understand where you’re coming from. I’m mostly troubled by the fact there’s a lack of imagination (or, better, observation) as it seems. As for guys not using deo, there’s Austin from Grasshopper Jungle.

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    1. I think I’m okay with fragrances being used for any character; it adds to their toolbox. But like you said with lacking imagination, even though this one trait (is this a trait?) is pretty subtle, it’s still something that ought to differentiate your character from another while remaining true to realistic intentions. Like, I’m not saying men wear scents of cotton candy, but fresh/citrus/aqua scents are actually a thing (re: I own Kenzo l’eau par homme) so to label us all as “woody” is like…ugh.

      And I guess I have Austin to look forward to for a non-deodorant using fella haha.

      Like

  4. Great post as usual Joey , a lot of books come to mind . I guess fictional guys never get stuck in traffic during rush hour or they never sweat, another reason could be they all use a deodorant that gives an outdoorsy smell . Lol.

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  5. I love this post and had a good laugh too. I always find myself bewildered (sometimes entertained) when authors comes up with these bizarre adjectives to describe a man’s scent. Other terms I’ve read are “earthy” and “leather”. Those don’t sound too appealing…..

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    1. Oooh. The earthy one is new to me!

      Leather is definitely one I feel is misunderstood (even for me). In cologne-land there’s a specific scent for “leather” which I don’t really understand (like, there’s a science to these smells that completely goes over my head haha). That being said, if it holds any resemblance to actual leather, I think my tolerance for it is pretty low.

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  6. Here are some manly scents I’ve encountered throughout my reading life: woodsy, outdoors-y, the spicy smell of aftershave, summer (?), and I could go on and on. I think these fragrant descriptions, in a way, stimulate the female reader’s mind and helps in developing this image of Perfect Male Love Interest. I don’t know if this applies to us male readers too though…

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    1. BUT THE REAL QUESTIONIS WHAT FRAGRANCES DO YOU USE, MIGGY?

      I seldom come across female characters being aptly described since I actually haven’t read many NA contemporaries with male leads; which [I believe] is the most prevalent of places to find these scents. (Do you remember how the descriptions used in Tangled by Emma Chase went? Just curious, since I remember you read it?)

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  7. I am laughing so hard right now! This is so true!

    The scientist in me wants to say that the “woodsy” scent is due to pheromones. There have been numerous studies that show females prefer the scent of males that have MHC genes (basically immune system genes) that are similar to their own when they smell t-shirts. No idea what that scent is supposed to smell like; perhaps it is woodsy but I think it goes back to a stereotype of men doing hard physical labor, etc. On the other hand, I don’t know too many people who don’t like pine/woodsy scents. I know I like them a lot haha. It’s a distinct scent as well so I think it’s an easy way to describe the scene for the reader.

    Some common words to describe females: vanilla, coconut, honey, floral. All very light, stereotypical female smells.

    Worst description of a smell I’ve ever read? In Real by Katy Evans the narrator repeatedly uses the word “scent” as a verb. And I quote: “He scents me. And I scent him” — Like you it caused me to go on a bit of a rant in my review 😉

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    1. I dig this scientific approach! I’m just having a hard time believing that most male archetypes have to be the “hard physical labour” excessive-sweating-under-the-sun type of guy (and to a lesser extent, “woody” fragrances). There are just so many more in the selection than just this one scent (just like how female fragrances range from vanilla to floral).

      But hey, at least if there’s a takeaway to this it’s that most of these men are written for you then!

      “He scents me. And I scent him” — How…what? LOL.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. This is probably the best discussion topic ever! I guess I never noticed what guys smell like in fiction because I’m just grateful for all the tight t-shirts in the apocalypse.

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    1. Tight t-shirts in the apocalypse? This is news to me. I don’t think I’ve stumbled across tight clothes (or at least, explicitly stated tightness). You must inform me where I can find this to validate this humour of mine for this (and potentially a new topic LOL).

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  9. I’m sooo fucking glad I came across your blog, and to see that you covered a topic I was JUST talking about last week! I was chatting a couple of days ago with some blogger friends of mine about how it’s weird that in books, (especially New Adult) the men always have the same scent. I had literally come across a sentence in a book where the character stated, ” I love inhaling his scent. He reminds me of the great outdoors, nothing but grass and woods. ” WTF? I’m sorry but I don’t want my boo smelling like he just went on a camping trip lmao. I honestly think some authors assume all guys have this ” woodsy ” scent to them, and they don’t! I know plenty of guys that just smell like the deodorant they wear, or like soap lol. I’m also convinced these authors believe that saying a male character smells like soap or deodorant would be something of a mediocre description to us readers. Even though it wouldn’t be, that HAS to be the reason behind this lol.

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    1. Well I hope to have made your day better with this rant! But I lament in the obsession of pine/wood-scented men. I admit that the fragrance is a thing but I still think it’s uncommon…or at least not as common as fiction makes it out to be. That’s a good point! Why don’t they just say “he smells like firewood and smoke…” (I mean, at least go all the way if they’re “outdoorsy”)

      The complexities of character development for men remains pretty formula in the NA genre. I haven’t read that many but I feel like if you just mix brooding + musk/wood scent + bantering + inexplicable Adonis bodies = successful male lead. But I digress as I don’t read much NA LOL.

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  10. Ha! This is hilarious. What a brilliant post.
    I must admit I’ve never noticed the smell thing, but I HAVE noticed that all guys seem to have to have eyes with ‘flecks’ in them whether green, blue, brown etc recently. Like what the heck? Why? Do people EVER have flecks in their eyes? I sure haven’t noticed any people with them.

    There are lots of these ridiculous trends in YA. I’ll have to keep a look out for smell mentions next time!

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    1. (Sorry for the delayed response!)

      That’s an interesting characteristic you point out. I’ll have to look into it and perhaps spawn another rant about it haha. It’s a pretty specific detail in the eyes though. Like, unless you were intently focused on their eyeballs, it’s like whoa–how would you know!?

      Liked by 1 person

  11. This post is so true! For boys, I don’t think I’ve seen anything besides what’s in this post. Girls—the typical flowers.
    As a reader, I don’t sit around fantasizing about these scents—but then again, who has the time? I’d much rather plot out my next fan art piece; or post idea. Or get some actual reading done on my woefully long TBR.

    There’s so much more to life than sitting down and imagining the scents of fictitious characters or just “masculine” scents. I’ve yet to meet a male that smells of any of these scents. But that’s just me.

    Interesting to see a male perspective on this!

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    1. I get it’s contextual value but like…most scents (I feel) get easily glossed over. “Cool she smells like vanilla” “he smells woody” it’s not like you stop and think about this scent. At least, I know I don’t. So it’s intent is well-taken but I question who actually attempts to materialize it.

      But to be fair, if they’re like “oh, I’m cooking up Cinnabon” or something. Then, hell yes my knees will turn into jello to imagine the scent of cinnamon rolls.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I was just thinking about this the other day! I read two books back to back and the male characters apparently smelled like “mint and lemons” and I was thinking to myself…wait, the last book I read he also smelled liked mint and lemons. I’ve definitely noticed all all male characters apparently have similar scents, lol. So strange. There is a small part of me that I wants to randomly go smell some guys and see what the deal is! I mean, these authors have to be getting their information from the same place, right? It may be frowned upon to smell random people though.

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