Thursday, March 31, 2011

Smells Like Teen Boys

I read the funniest post ever by Crazy Writer Girl about "the olfactory problem in YA writing." (I'd put a link to it, but the blog seems to have been removed--or else Blogger's messing with me again.)

Anyway, the point of the post was that boys stink.

It was written by a wife and mother of two boys, and she noted that there's a Big Lie being perpetrated in YA literature where the overwhelming majority of male love interests emit amazingly pleasant odors.

Naturally, she wanted to know where all these fantastic-smelling teen boys were hiding as her brood ... well, according to CWG, they don't smell like fresh-cut grass (or fresh-cut anything for that matter).

As I was snorting in my coffee, I realized it's true! And I read them that way all the time without ever thinking about it (or looking over at JRM and going, "Why don't you smell like a field of clover all the time?")

Seriously, though. The reality is teen boys don't typically worry about how they smell. But if I'm writing a swoon-ey crush scene, I can't say Hot Johnny smells like a dirty gym sock.

On the other hand, I also don't want to describe his manly musk. Ew. (Am I the only person who finds the word musk extremely unappealing?)

That's a picture of a musk (or three). --->

Seriously, folks. Not hot.

Fictional males need to smell attractive. And in fairness, CWG wasn't saying to make them more realistic (i.e., stinky), she was asking for writers to associate guys with more believable guy smells.

I gotta confess. I might just stick to suspension of disbelief on this one. And I think meeting the right person can have transformative powers on both the sniffer and the sniffee.

On a related note, one of my Book Club ladies, after reading The Hunger Games, said she was bothered by the fact that none of the girls ever had a period. Seriously. The lack of menstruation stood out to her.

I told her they were so malnourished and under such extreme stress, they were all suffering from amenorrhea. But what am I? The Suzanne Collins apologist?

As a writer, again I was stunned. Do readers really notice these things? Apparently the answer is sometimes Yes.

So I have two questions for you:

-What do you think about staying that true to life? 
-Should we include the nitty-gritty details in our writing? 

(Do your females skip periods and your male characters smell like daffodils?)

I'm suddenly feeling the need for some light revisions... Have a great weekend, reader- and writer- friends!

Til Monday~ <3


Mary@GigglesandGuns said...

LOL I've always hated the scent Musk -- with this visual I don't see that changing.
Real is one thing but then comes overboard. There are 'facts of life' we all know but if there's no reason (pregnancy scare) why put those things in?
As I'm laughing I'm wondering what kind of Book Club you belong to? And I thought mine is strange.

Jessica Bell said...

LOL! Musk makes me think of fungus for some weird reason ... Hmm, that period things is kinda, odd. hmm ... I don't think we need to put these details in unless they're important to the storyline, yeah? lolol

KM Nalle said...

OK. Musk? Gross. So my question, much like Jessica's is would a girl getting her period in Hunger Games have been detrimental to the story? If not, I would assume it doesn't need to be said. (But that's just me - no offense to your book club folks). Also, I like to read for the break from my own life. Periods? I'm happy pretending they don't exist in the fictional world.

Tracy said...

I hate the word musk too! I agree fictional boys HAVE to smell good, but I do try to keep mine smelling more boy-esque. Most of the time they smell like spicy, slightly sweet things like cinammon. Not ocean breezes. Then again, if he's paranormal he can smell like whatever he wants -- the normal rules do not apply.

I notice the period thing from time to time . . . but I'm more bothered by things like how all the women on LOST were on that island for months without a razor and they all had smooth arm pits and legs all the time. Apparently, their plane had an unending supply of Nair.

JE said...

HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!! Great post!! I will bow my head and admit that I have used the term "musk" in my books. And now, after seeing a picture of an official musk for the first time, I never, EVER will again!! Thank you for setting me straight!

And you are soooo right about teen boys. Ewh. But we write fiction, people can smell like cotton candy if we want them to. ;-)


Vicki Rocho said...

I'm lacking in the olfactory characters don't smell like anything, though I'm more inclined to make my guys smell faintly of Irish Spring or Head & Shoulders.

Old Kitty said...

Have you ever seen Marnie by Alfred Hitchcock? Tippi Hedren is so traumatised by the tiniest, itsy bitsy teeny weeny drop of red dye and/or colouring that she FREAKS!! completely. I always thought "poor cow - what she must go through EVERY MONTH"!.

So yes, I think I would notice the lack of nitty gritty details like periods! As for teen boys - on my way home from work yesterday evening I had get past a gang of em - they were about 13/14 - all hoods and jeans hanging lose with their underwear showing - you know?? - and they all REEKED of cologne. LOL!

Enjoy your revisions! Take care

Laurel Garver said...

My experience teaching some youth group kids is that the boys will cologne themselves to high heaven given the opportunity. Maybe they've caught on to the fact that smell is a HUGE part of attraction for females (and touch, too). That's why it shows up so often in fiction. Guys tend to be more sight-oriented.

As far as menses in fiction, it depends on the story time frame. Books that cover only a few days would likely not mention it. Ditto with ones that pop in and out of a character's life over months.

It's those in-between books where the occasional mention of popping Pamprin or kicking back with a heating pad and a pound of chocolate would suffice to give the verisimilitude. I've read a few books that went into detail and it struck me as appealing as hearing a description of someone's bowel woes.

DEZMOND said...

I've worked in a high school and I haven't seen or smelled any stinky teen boy, that woman who said that should bathe her kids more often probably :)
And I had two teen boys coming for some lessons to my place today, and one of them smelled like coconut :)
I don't think readers pay attention to details like smell, periods and similar. Writers should worry about more serious things in their plots than about silly details like these :)

PS love those daffodils :)

Summer Ross said...

I don't really write much in the YA department- but I think the whole idea of the period and smelling of boys- seems like too much information, unless the story revolves around it somehow. Sure when I am reading a book- I notice lots of things the author didn't write about- But there is an assumed idea on the readers end- in horror, romance, literary fiction, stories the reader can safely assume a female will have a period, or the characters do eat even if it is not mentioned. I don't need the author to spell it out for me- I'm a girl I know what most female bodies do.
AS for the smelly realistic boys- well men don't normally smell pretty, not even the best dressed man I know- if they work in any way, get under stress, or anything even close- they tend to smell. :)
I think safely assuming is better than knowing the gritty details that do nothing for the story. Its fiction isn't it? So why can't the YA boy smell good?

Matthew MacNish said...

For what it's worth my kids don't always smell great either. They're both girls.

I don't often write about the way another character smells, but if I do, it's usually with the full understanding that beauty (or olfactory pleasantness) is often in the nostril of the beholder. If you're extremely attracted to someone, your mind will often compensate.

Colene Murphy said...

Hahahaha! Hilariously true. Although, I did have a boyfriend in high school that ALWAYS smelled like the same delicious cologne. Ruined that smell for me. Now I hyperventilate every time I smell it. But, she's very right. It isn't the norm for sure!
"Hot Johnny..." made me snort.

PK HREZO said...

Oh great question! SOmetimes I do notice no one ever has to use the bathroom, but in general these things don't bother me because I don't need to know all those little things. THey're a given and I assume they're there, whether or not the author mentions it.

What a great point about guys not smelling good, tho. I guess that's why we writ, so we can imagine things like we'd like them to be sometimes.

Amanda Hoving said...

Hi Leigh -- found you by way of yatopia. I also had read Crazy Writer Girl's post and loved it. (I think she left her intern post BTW, which is why the blog is down.) Enjoyed your take on this subject, as well. As for myself -- with two daughters, I've had enough "period" talk to last me awhile, so I don't mind not reading about it. Briefly mentioning it for the story's sake is fine. Regarding smells like "clover?" I think we can be more realistic. I have two active boys, too. I know.

Hart Johnson said...

I'm drawn out of a story by unrealistic things like boys smelling too good, but if there is some realistic smell that is good 'to her' I can live with it. ABSENSE though, I don't find as pernicious.

As for me... I have one book of 5 that focuse on a female teen MC that mentions the matter, and that is only the fact that when she is living on the streets, that is one of the things she actually has to BUY (can't bum feminine hygeine products like you can food or clothes)

Carolyn Abiad said...

Have you ever walked into a cloud of Axe? Very unpleasant. Seriously though...I have two boys and by the end of the day - they stink. Axe or no Axe. :)

Unknown said...


This is so true. I've raise three sons--mostly I don't associate pleasant smells with them and they're quite all right with that.

To be fair, around age 14 they did want cans of Axe in their Christmas stockings. When girls entered the picture there was more effort in the hygiene arena. But still.

I suspend disbelief. My YA love interests don't smell bad. As for recording periods and bathroom breaks, I think that just gets boring unless its relevant to the story at hand.

Julie Musil said...

OMG, this is hilarious! As a mother of three boys (14, 11, 11) I can attest to the smell thing. I have to remind my 11 yo twins to WEAR DEODORANT! On the other hand, my 14 yo is now in to smelling good. He's become quite the obsessive showerer (new word). I think a girl may be involved, yes?

Btw, I saw your sweet comment on YAtopia. Thank you *hugs*

Janet Johnson said...

Loved this post!

And yes, my characters skip all those things because dangit, I WANT to skip all those things. :)

Jemi Fraser said...

Totally agree with Julie on this one! Once my son & his buddies got interested in girls, showering and smelling good became very, very important! :)

Jan Markley said...

Hilarious post. I agree with you on the musk thing - not a nice sounding or smelling word.

Ella said...

I don't think we need to know about the period, unless it suits a scene.
It is a natural progression, so is burping n' passing gas,etc. I don't want details on those, either.
I want men, boys to smell like boys. Some motor oil, Axe, something we can relate to, not musk...eeeewww!
Thought provoking post; I guess I need to read more YA fiction~ I'm curious now, how they smell...

LTM said...

@Summer--I'm with ya, and based on everyone's comments, apparently teen guys DO smell like daffodils! :D

Have to confess, I do have a character get her period in Cheveux Roux--but it's to illustrate the increasing financial burden on the MC taking care of her, and I don't really get into the details. Ew. :D xoxo

@PK--so true. I also fill in the blanks (or don't think about it!). But those readers, man! :D <3

@Amanda--Hey! Thanks for visiting and for the inside scoop on CWG! I also like the idea of more "guy" smells. Truth is, my scent vocabulary needs work... :D <3

@Jan--It was fun to read, write, and read comments for this post! Good stuff. Muskrat love~ :D <3

vic caswell said...

*gasps for air*
(chicken with its head cut-off reflex)

Ellie Garratt said...

LOL. Snort. Snort. No. I don't think I'd ever be as realistic as to include periods in my fiction.

Unknown said...

Who is this hot Johnny you speak of... Haha too funny!

No way I can stick to true smells. I can only imagine what medievalish hygiene was.

"Erich smelled of pig slop and his teeth had that just scraped with a bundle of sticks glow."

Super sexy!

Anonymous said...

As I'm developing a MS, I have the good guy and his girlfriend at the airport after living abd fighting in the desert for a few days saving the world. They are at the airport and stinky and dirty and covered with dust. I fo into detail and describe other people's reactiosn when they walk by and catch a whiff. I use comedy here too.

walk2write said...

What's fiction without a little funk? Stale, in my opinion. I say go for the gunk and keep it real, unless it's meant to be fantasy.

LTM said...

@Stephen--oh, yes! I can see that has lots of potential to be extremely hilarious! :D Best~

Angela said...

The guy in my current WIP smells like baby powder. But that's because he has a nephew that's three months old that he takes care of all the time. Not your typical situation.

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

This post made me laugh out loud. As for the nitty gritty..I only include details that are important to the plot and keeps it moving forward.

Myne said...

I actually read a young adult novel where the MC was going through her period a lot, and stinking, and it got on my last nerves. But I forgave it because it was germane to the plot.

I skip it in my books.

Al said...

Ugh. Better to leave the scent out and focus on other senses in your writing.

Jan Morrison said...

oh, guess I'm an old hippy - actually, I don't guess that, I know that. I like real smells and real events when they have a bearing on the story. I don't wish to avoid periods and smells. I do have a teen boy in my latest wip and he has a funky smell - unwashed socks, a bit of marijuana and just boy funk. And the period thing comes up cuz the protagonist realizes she hasn't had one in awhile...

just saying!
Jan Morrison

RaShelle Workman said...

Hey Leigh - I just don't think it's necessary to point out a girl is having her period unless you're reading Judy Blume. It's not like we announce we're on our periods to perfect strangers. Really, not too many people. Right?

As for great smelling boys - I'll say this, I have a teenage niece and she's sweet enought to SHARE info with me. According to her, the boys she's found gorgeous, smell amazing. Just saying. LOL

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

LOL!! Um, no, I do not mind AT ALL if we skipping on mentioning our cycles in fiction. I mean, really?? I'm pretty sure that qualifies as "the boring part you can leave out."

As for the manly smells, I think boys that practice at least reasonable hygiene can smell very attractive because...well...that's how the whole pheromone thing is designed to work. We can get technical or, yanno, use our fictional muscles to create something that simulates that real feeling when everything goes ZING!

LTM said...

@Jan--rut roh! I think I see where that one's headed...

Sounds very real, and super-interesting! I think you've demonstrated the "balance."

Thanks, Jan~ :o) <3

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