Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind

Comic book series and graphic novels looked at from an editor's perspective on the craft of writing a story that works.

last edited on 02. Okt 2019

published on 02. Okt 2019 by Melanie Naumann

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Copyright of used images (photos takem from the book): Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind

Perfume - An innovative thriller analysed

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind - Perfume - An innovative thriller analysed

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind. In this article, you'll find the answers to the Six Core Questions (Story Grid) to this innovative thriller.

1. What’s the Global Genre?

It’s a long Arch Plot literary historical fantasy novel with the global genre Serial Killer Thriller as the primary genre and Worldview Disillusionment as the secondary, internal genre. There is also a strong society genre (historical, political) included (especially if you look at the setting).

2. What are the conventions and obligatory scenes of the global genre?

Obligatory Scenes

  • An Inciting Crime Indicative of a Master Villain
    The crime is the first murder that Grenouille commits. He scents a girl from across the river as if he is a dog on a hunt. Even as he gets closer to her, she is not aware of his presence until she feels his breath on her neck. Without trouble, he got so close to her, that it’s easy for him to strangle her. And then he keeps her scent in his memory.
  • A Speech in Praise of the Villain
    Throughout the book, there are many speeches in praise of Grenouille. In chapter 3 the narrator compares Grenouille (just a baby at this time) to a tick praising his resistance, his patience and his ability to scent his victims.
    In chapter 42 Antoine Richis comes to the conclusion that the Grasse murderer is not destructive, but a very careful and collecting being that possesses an exquisite taste as well as a system.
  • The Hero/Protagonist Becomes the Victim
    Right from the start of the story, Grenouille is the victim of the society around him. Unloved, passed along, almost killed, sold and never recognized as the person he is. Even though Grenouille is the serial killer and therefore seems to be more fit for the role of the antagonist, I see him as the protagonist who becomes victimized by the antagonistic forces of society.
  • Hero at the Mercy of the Villain Scene
    If we consider the society as the antagonistic force, then Grenouille is at their mercy when it is the day of his execution. And only through his ability to create the perfect godlike perfume he is able to prevent his own death.
  • False Ending
    The first ending is the planned execution of Grenouille. The second one is Grenouille returning to Paris and letting himself be killed by the homeless.



  • MacGuffin
    Grenouille wants to collect smells. At first only for his mind and memory but as he discovers he does not have his own odor he wants to become the god of all fragrances and therefore he needs ingredients (smell of adolescent women) to produce that one superhuman perfume.
  • Investigative Red Herrings
    The novel is about Grenouille’s life. Like everyone who goes through life, he discovers several things he thinks are the ones he wants to do or become. The red herrings are therefore the hopes he pursues that mislead him from what he needs. At first Grenouille wants to possess every smell in the world → after that he wants to become the best perfumer → then he wants to be close only to himself and live in his own imaginary castle of scents (He does so for 7 years living only in a cave.), → then he wants to be the god of all scents and create a superhuman perfume – only to find out that all those dreams are exactly the opposite of what he really wants: to be hated for the hateful person, he himself is.
    Other red herrings are, for example, the wrong charges against different groups of society who are blamed for being the Grasse Murderer or the presumption that the Grasse Murderer is killing in Grenoble. Although those clues are connected to the crimes Grenouille committed, the reader is not misled because he knows that Grenouille is the serial killer.
  • Making it personal: The villain needs the hero to get the MacGuffin and thus must victimize the Hero to get what he wants.
    In all the bad things life throws at Grenouille, he fights for his life. He endures. So Grenouille is the hero, the villain and the victim in one person because he triumphs, he suffers and he inflicts pain. In trying to attain the superhuman perfume, a smell for the odorless himself, he pushes that part of himself forward – that part, that just wanted to be a perfumer and the one that just wanted to live far away from the humans in his dreams – he pushes that harmless person back into the world to be able to create his own smell. From that part on, even though he murdered only once, his path leads him down a dark road where he not only wants to smell like all the other human beings but he wants to become their god and be loved.
    If we consider the society as an antagonistic force than each of the individuals that Grenouille works for is just using him to reach their own MacGuffin. Baldini wants to become the best perfumer; Taillade-Espinasse (Marquis) wants to prove his fluidal theory and Druot in Grasse uses Grenouille to make himself look good and to be able to spend more time in Madame Arnulfis bed.
  • Clock: there is a limited time for the hero to act.
    As soon as Antoine Richis understands that the Grasse Murderer has saved his, Richis, daughter for last, he leaves Grasse with his daughter Laure. Grenouille notices that her scent gets fainter and immediately follows after her before he loses her scent and thus the opportunity to harvest her smell for the creation of the superhuman perfume.


3. What’s the Point of View / Narrative Device?

The narrator is an unidentified presence relying and commenting on events observed (for example in chapter 42, as the narrator says that Richis’ conclusion about the murderer comes close to the truth even though he does not know it’s not about beauty for the eyes but for the nose).

The novel is written in third person omniscient who employs all three forms of narrative drive. The intended audience is less clear, but it seems the unidentified narrator is writing a cautionary tale for a general public audience about society’s lack of acceptance and care to see a person for his true self.

The narrative distance shifts from close to remote. At times we are far away as the narrator tells us what fate other characters in the book meet. And then we are very close to the protagonist Grenouille – most of all when we almost seem to smell what he scents and know what he thinks.

As the title says ›The Story of a Murderer‹ the story is a fictional historical account of a serial killer that shows not only Jean-Baptiste Grenouille’s life but also the lives of those closest around him (Baldine, Taillade-Espinasse). It’s an innovative thriller story because the reader experiences the crimes from the point of view of the murderer who himself is a victim of society.

4. What are the objects of desire for the protagonist?

WANT (external object of desire): Grenouille wants to express his inner self because he thinks it’s more wonderful than everything the outer world possesses and so he wants to create a superhuman perfume that will make the people love him. (Love)

Grenouille needs to know how it feels to be recognized/seen as his true self without having to wear the mask of a perfume. (Worldview)

“He possessed the power. He held it in his hand. A power stronger than the power of money or the power of terror or the power of death: the invincible power to command the love of mankind. There was only one thing that power could not do: it could not make him able to smell himself.” ― Patrick Süskind, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer


5. What is the controlling idea/theme of the story?

Death triumphs when an extraordinarily talented individual who is not recognized by society puts all his hope for recognition into expressing his gift, but with no strong mentor figure on his side, realizes that his only goal in life turns out to be the thing that he despises leaving him disillusioned and suicidal.

“There was only one thing the perfume could not do. It could not turn him into a person who could love and be loved like everyone else. So, to hell with it he thought. To hell with the world. With the perfume. With himself”
― Patrick Süskind, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer


6. What are the beginning hook, middle build and ending payoff of the global story?

Beginning Hook:

When a young man with an extraordinary sense of smell who endures life like a tick discovers through the murder of a young virgin girl that he is a genius who is able to revolutionize the world of scent, he must decide if he wants to do something about his life or continue being a worthless nobody. He decides to act and he becomes an apprentice of a perfumer in Paris.


Middle Build

Hating to smell humans the man named Grenouille lives for seven years in a cave, but the shock of being odorless is upsetting him so much, that he has to decide if he wants to stay in solitude or if he goes back to the human world. He decides to return back and he figures out a way not only to create body smells that change the way people perceive him but that it is also within his ability to create a scent that will be ›superhuman‹.


Ending Payoff

Grenouille creates his superhuman fragrance by killing over 25 young virgin girls only to find out that he was disillusioned thinking he needed the people’s love when in truth he just wanted to be hated by them for all the hate he carries for them, but knowing he will never be able to make them see his inner self, he has to decide if he wants to live in a world where he does not fit in or if he should die. Grenouille goes back to Paris, pours the entire bottle of perfume over himself and is torn apart by the crowd of homeless people who for the first time know that they did something out of love.

Perfume - An innovative thriller analysed

Now that you have made it all the way to the end of my blog post, it'd be really great if you could spend two more minutes and let me know your thoughts.

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Melanie Naumann - I help comic book writers craft authentic stories in every kind of setting. Melanie Naumann - I help comic book writers craft authentic stories in every kind of setting.
Editing Comics

Story Consultant

Melanie is a developmental editor and action/thriller writer from Germany. She specializes in applying the Story Grid methodology to the art of writing graphic novels. She is currently working on a case study to show how the principles of story structure can be applied for telling stories that work through the art of captivating pictures, captions, and dialogue.

Melanie has traveled the world and lived in New Zealand, Australia, and Spain before settling down in her home village in Saxony, Germany.

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