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The Write Scent

Using scent to tell a story — scent reviews and inspired prompts for fiction and non-fiction writers.

This is an experiment! I like to use perfume oil to inspire character, setting, mood, and so on as I write. I used to post reviews and prompts inspired by oils in my collection under a blog/page called The Write Scent, and I figured–since it’s really a part of my process as a writer–I might as well just fold it into my blog here.

You don’t need to own (or buy) these oils to use these prompts, but I will do my best to review/generate prompts for oils that are current available (Click the scent names!), in case you ARE scent-inspired like me, and find yourself craving the oil I’m talking about. Without further ado, here are two reviews and prompts to kick this series off:

Coin Trick, from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab’s AMERICAN GODS collection (a Neil Gaiman collaboration)

Scent Description: Glittering gold and silver, rolling over knuckles — concealed in palms — and pulled from the sun, the moon, and the stars.

Scent Review: Before I say anything about this scent, you have to understand that I have no patience for scents that smell like detergent. It happens with a lot of aquatics, and I don’t blame the perfumers so much as I blame the “perfume” in the “spring rain” (etc.) detergent we always had growing up. It’s an association I don’t love, generally. If you also have this problem, hear me very carefully when I say that Coin Trick smells like clean laundry. Not detergent. Clean laundry.

It’s not clean laundry on a line. I wouldn’t call this a warm scent. Instead, in the bottle and first on, this has that static to it that clothing has right out of the dryer. I can only think to call it a charged smell — not deep, but sort of dense. There is a floral presence, too, but it is neither fresh flowers nor household-cleaner spray. It’s more like a soothing, gentle face cream kind of floral — something calm. I see the blue light of dawn landing silent on a living room carpet when I smell this — quiet, gentle, sacred. On and up close, it loses a bit of this depth, but never quite turns to the detergent I loathe.

How Inspired! All the while that I wore this, though, I wondered: what has this to do with money magic, with Shadow, with America’s transplant gods? I don’t know that it ever would have dawned on me but for my happening to try it on while I was in a nightshirt. My nightclothes I tend only to wear for a few hours, then discard on my dresser to wear a second time the next night (don’t judge). So, I took the shirt off, tossed it away, and picked it up to wear again the next day and…

Oh! This smells like it’s been through the wash!

In fact, it smelled better than my clothes do coming out of the actual dryer. It smelled like the freshest, coolest, nicest nightshirt — as if I’d never worn it yet at all. Then I understood. Of course.

It’s a vanishing trick.

Writing Prompts

Creative Non-Fiction: Is there something in your life you wish you could do over? Write it. Don’t beat yourself up about what happened, or mourn the missed opportunity; write out what could have happened if you’d done it differently. Does it actually go as you expected it to? Count the variables as you go, all the places where the path divides– multiplying the possible outcomes.

Fiction: Make a big mess. Write the messy thing that you don’t know, as a writer, how to write. Maybe it’s some big emotional scene. Maybe it’s a thrilling disaster. Make a big mess. Make the biggest mess you can. Don’t get scared and stop in the middle. Make the mess. Then clean it up.

Fiction: Vanish somebody.

Fiction: Something sacred happens in the blue light of dawn.

Zorya Utrennyaya, from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab’s AMERICAN GODS collection (a Neil Gaiman collaboration)

Scent Description: Sweet black coffee and a touch of ambrette seed.

Scent Review: From the bottle to the dry-down, this scent doesn’t really change. This is coffee that is sweet and, because of the ambrette seed, languid. I would not call this spicy, but I would call it exciting– and golden/bronze in color. Satiny.

How Inspired! The golden/bronze satin imagery is because of the association I’m making here, to the neutral tones — and luxurious feel — of a classy hotel lobby (the coffee) or the sheets in the hotel room (the ambrette seed). This doesn’t scream “vacation;” it sighs it, as you sigh upon arrival with a week of relaxation ahead of you. Think of those fluffy pillows, those crisp linens, those ocean waves or that dappled sunlight. This is not the scent of your adventures, but the scent of the calm that comes before.

Writing Prompts

Creative Non-Fiction: Write about your best vacation to date, and get descriptive. What was so wonderful about it? What about it will you forever be glad to have lived through?

Creative Non-Fiction: Describe one day of your ideal vacation. Where are you? What are you doing? Who’s with you? Most importantly, what are you going to do to make this happen for yourself?

Fiction: Write a hotel story.

So, what do we think? More of these? I do have some new scents from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab’s new collections…

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