This blog post is part of a series about why we need to use sensory imagery in our writing. As we learned in my introductory post about sensory imagery, the sensory details draw readers into the setting and allow them to feel a character’s existence. These details must be specific, concrete, and appeal to the senses, whether seen, heard, smelled, tasted, or touched.
In this post, we explore the sense of taste.
Taste is an intimate sense, second only to smell for evoking memory.
Here’s an example from Donna Tratt’s, The Little Friend to illustrate what I mean. “She snapped off a stick of spaghetti and sucked on it. The floury taste was familiar—like paste—and triggered an unexpected splutter of pictures from nursery school, green tile floors, wooden blocks painted to look like bricks, windows too high to see out of…”
Throughout history and in many cultures, taste has always had a double meaning. People who have taste are those who have appraised life in an intensely personal way and found some of it sublime, the rest of it lacking. Something in bad taste tends to be obscene or vulgar. And we defer to professional critics of wine, food, art, and so forth, whom we trust to taste things for us because we think their taste more refined or educated than ours.
Here’s a little food for thought about the sense of taste as you consider your characters.
When we think of taste, we think of food, and what would language be without references to food: a woman may call a man a real dish, a French girl refers to her lover as mon petit chou, my little cabbage; an American man calls his girlfriend cookie, sugar, or his young daughter pumpkin, or muffin; a British man might refer to an attractive woman as a bit of crumpet or a tart.
Do you taste the food you eat?
We usually chew about a hundred times a minute; however, most of us probably don’t chew our food more than 10-15 times before swallowing it. How many of us actually taste what we eat or experience it in all its sensory pleasure?
A food’s flavor includes its texture, smell, temperature, color, and painfulness (as in spices), among other things. We like foods that we can hear: the crunch of a carrot stick or potato chip, the sizzle of meat grilling, the rumble of a sauce boiling, the snap, crackle, pop of our breakfast cereal.
Taste might be the least used sense in writing but think of all you can learn about your character through her taste buds. What would happen if your character were to lose their sense of taste?
Try the following exercise to become more familiar with the sensations of taste.
Choose a bite-sized portion of something to eat. A square of chocolate is perfect, but anything should work. Sit quietly and take a few slow breaths. When you’re ready, place the food item in your mouth and let it sit on your tongue. Take note of physical sensations, flavor, and sound. You may discover new sensations and ideas for enriching your descriptive details.
Now, write a description of what you experienced. You can always do this from a character’s perspective, which will give you some unexpected insights.
Go with your first thought. Keep your pen moving.
What did you discover?
Now it’s your turn to see how the sense of taste can enrich your writing.
You can use the prompts below to explore memories or apply them to a character—you’ll be amazed at how much you discover. These prompts work well for both fiction and nonfiction.
How to start:
Set your timer for 10 minutes. Write the prompt at the top of your page and begin writing—go where the first thought takes you.
Keep your pen moving.
Don’t stop until the time is up.
Write by hand. Writing by hand connects the brain and body and, I believe, the heart. It’s especially helpful in getting those first thoughts onto the page.
Writing prompt #1
It took every ounce of her willpower to swallow the …
Writing prompt #2
The taste of it took him back to …
Writing prompt #3
Why was she unable to taste even a hint of …
Thank you for allowing me to bring you to your senses. Let me know how it goes in the comments box below.