I’m sitting in the Concord Mall, reeking of men’s cologne.
No, I didn’t get ambush-spritzed by salespeople.
This was my own doing.
I decided to do a little research for a book character. Right now he’s named Jed and he needs to smell, uh, yummy. So what does that smell like?
Not versed in men’s cologne, I decided to find out for myself. My husband wouldn’t let me publicly sniff him in a mall while I sprayed cologne on him. I suppose that would be all sorts of weird, wouldn’t it? Fun but weird.
Instead, I used ribbons and cards.
I had friends and readers submit online their list of favorite colognes. Here they are: Dolce and Gabbana Light Blue, Acqua di Gio by Giorgio Armani, Pi by Givenchy, Paul Sebastian, Chanel Bleu, CK One by Calvin Klein, Chrome by Azzaro, Obsession and Drakkar Noir.
Now you know why I was at the mall. I had to stop in at Carson’s and see if they would let me go on a free smelling spree.
The super-accommodating sales lady did just that. She hunted up each of the colognes I requested, gave me a load of spritz cards and ribbons and left me alone. I sprayed and sniffed my way through each entry.
What I was looking for was a scent that would be a natural extension of Jed — nothing overpowering. I wanted subtle and masculine. The scent needed to make the ladies approach Jed and inhale deeper, not step back.
Acqua di Gio
The top two were Dolce and Gabbana Light Blue and Acqua di Gio by Giorgio Armani. Light Blue won because of its subtle citrus scent. So now Jed’s a Light Blue man.
Who would think that something as simple as scent would matter to a book character matters? But it does. When building a character, authors don’t want two dimensional. Readers want characters to come to life, to feel like they can reach out and touch them — or maybe even slap them.
To do that, senses need to be used.
Physical characteristics are important. Jed’s muscles rippled as his long legs carried him across the beach. His sand-colored hair stood straight up in the wind. His gray eyes had a lifeless look about them.
But move beyond describing the outside appearance.
How does Jed’s face feel when his brother punches him? Hard? Soft? Rough? Flaccid? Did his jowls wobble? Or did his brother’s fist get a rash from Jed’s wiry beard stubble?
This might be a little gross, but what does the character taste like? Jed could taste the sorrow on her lips. Or maybe he tasted the saltiness of her tears. Maybe he tasted her cherry chapstick on his lips. You get the picture — that’s the point.
Although you’re reading, sound plays an important part in character development. After all, the characters have a voice in your head.
Would Jed sound manly with a deep voice or a high voice? Higher tones are usually reserved for young, insecure or the whiny, sniveling type. I want Jed to be manly, so he’s going to channel Johnny Cash. Does he have a speech impediment? Does he stammer around cute girls? Or maybe Jed is the silent type, speaking only when necessary.
We’ve discussed scent. Jed reeked after a workout and had to take a quick shower. Or ... the woman obsessed with him, breaks into his home and he finds her sudsing it up in his shower with his Armani shower gel.
As the writer builds layer upon layer of subtle details, the character, in this case Jed, becomes more real for the reader. The details make us like or dislike Jed and the people in his life, they draw us near or push us away.
So the next time you dive into a book, pay attention to the detail being crafted by the author. What have you learned about the characters in the book and why do you feel the way you do about them?
And think about what the author might have done to get you there — maybe making herself stinky in a mall all in the name of research.