Writers Abroad Blog
Taste That
Posted by Alyson

Taste That

Carrying on from my recent blog on using the sense of smell in writing, taste is another under utilized sense in literature. Our characters don’t go about licking the scenery so taste has to be introduced more subtlety. Having said that, taste is closely connected to the sense of smell and the two can be interchangeable. For example, the faint taste of salt in the air or the faint smell of salt on the breeze are similar and suggest the same idea.

The most obvious time to evoke the sense of taste is when the characters are cooking, eating or drinking or perhaps kissing. But using a remembered flavour can take a character back to a better time — ice-cream types from childhood, the taste of ripe strawberries on a warm summer day, or spicy gluhwein at Christmas. Contrast a nice or familiar flavour with an awful meal or milk that has gone off to spark an immediate picture in a reader’s mind.

A physical taste or an imagined taste in a character’s mouth can give an indication of the situation they find themselves in. If your hero tastes copper or iron they are probably afraid, if they taste nausea they maybe revolted by something or even physically sickened by something.

Tastes might bring to mind a character — mint humbugs that Grandfather used to share, Victoria sponge that Grandmother used to make, or a special curry that a certain someone preferred.

The distinctive flavour of various foods can affect our emotions. Chocolate, that rich creamy punch can give you a much-needed boost of energy. Ditto coffee. Some people eat ice-cream for a similar boost or reach for a gin and tonic. Describe the moment of satisfaction on the character’s face or their internal emotion, as they taste nirvana.

Another way to use taste is through metaphor – “It’s going to taste like sunshine” (I’ve just heard Jamie Oliver use this on his cooking show). Metaphors (and similes) will remind readers of memories and emotions in their life. I found a couple of examples in the book I’ve just finished (re)reading – Black Swan Green by David Mitchell. The first example shows the hero of the story, Jason Taylor, age 13, enjoying a snack, which contrasts with the worrying situation he recently found himself in.

“No Double Decker ever tasted so good. No nougat ever so snowy. No curranty clag ever so crumble and sweet.”

The second example shows the reader something of Jason’s sister’s attitude to things that were appealing to Jason.

“Sausage rolls start off tasting lovely but by the time you finish them they taste of peppery pig bollock. According to Julia that’s exactly what sausage rolls’re made of.”

Finally the sense of taste has made its way into daily jargon. Phrases like ‘a taste of one’s own medicine’, ‘acquired taste’, ‘leave a sour taste’, and ‘no accounting for taste’ are in regular use. As writer’s we should usually avoid them as clichéd but that doesn’t mean you can’t use them as a prompt or theme for a story or poem.

Try it – you might find the sweet taste of success…


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