Yummy, yummy, yummy I got love in my tummy… Oh. Ahem. This tune just started humming in my head and I couldn’t stop myself from sharing. I sure hope I didn't get it started in yours, too.
Taste. We have sweet, sour, bitter and salty. But what does that mean for our writing? There's plenty of symbolism here, and we can use it to its full advantage. Taste can be literal, of course, but unless your characters spend a lot of time eating and drinking, it's a rare sense in description. That doesn't mean you can't use it in other ways.
Taste is often combined with scent since we can't experience flavor without our sense of smell. And we taste things other than food, too. How about the taste of a lover's lips? A taste of salty air from the sea? I don't know about you, but the odor of fertilizer leaves a horrible taste in my mouth that clings to the back of my tongue. I have to hold my breath when I walk through the gardening section of a store. Chemical fertilizers are even worse.
Like smell, tastes can free up memories lodged for years in our brains. That's why we have comfort foods. And mood foods. Let's not forget about chocolate! As far as chocolate goes, some say it's an aphrodisiac. Studies show that a preference for chocolate is a chemical signature that may be programmed into our metabolic systems. The feeling we get from eating chocolate has been compared to the feeling of being in love. Aphrodisiac foods abound.
If we're not tasting food, what else can we taste? Blood is popular with vampires, and there's also the flavor of a lover's skin. People who chew on their hair will likely get a taste of shampoo, and nail biters probably come in contact with all kinds of interesting flavors (ick). Did you ever have your mouth washed out with soap? I never had the pleasure, but was certainly threatened with it a time or two as a kid.
Think of all these flavors to describe, and how you'd do it. Especially if you never tasted something before. Would you have a taste of something just so you could describe it better? Or would you take someone's word for it?
Because it's such a unique descriptor, use taste sparingly, and make it count when you do.
Ready to take another look at the sample scene we've been working on all week?
The tile was green and shiny. The air smelled like a swamp. Lisa heard footsteps coming closer. She bit the sleeve of her shirt to keep from crying out.
Now adding to our improved version:
Green tile glistened in the sunlight. A humid scent like wet moss and mud floated on the air. Footsteps sloshed through a puddle of standing water, forcing Lisa farther back into the bushes where she hid. She gasped, then chomped down on her shirt sleeve to stop herself from screaming. The filthy cloth filled her mouth with the taste of blood; the gash in her arm had yet to stop bleeding.
Okay, so I lean toward the suspense side of fiction. I hope that's okay with you all because I can't help myself. We've added the sense of taste and it's not a pleasant one. I'm caring more about poor Lisa here. Not only is she hiding from someone, she's hurt, too. You've heard it said that tension should be on every page. No matter what the genre, it's true. Your characters should never feel completely relaxed because there's always trouble brewing just around the corner. Effective description can help you keep the tension high.
DO elevate the mundane with comparisons and contrasts. No matter what sense you're using, you can take something as ordinary as a pig farm and make the hoof-marked mud harden into a surface reminiscent of an elegant, pressed-tin ceiling. Push your creative engine into overdrive now and then. You'll surprise yourself with what you can come up with.
DON'T abuse your thesaurus. It can be a helpful tool, but it can't make a silk tie out of a sow's tail. *grin* If you can't find the right word to describe your heroine's gazebo, go find a gazebo and sit in it yourself for a while to experience what you'd like to describe.
I apologize for the slim pickings on my bookshelf for examples of using the sense of taste in description:
After breakfasting on a slice of antediluvian ham and an egg of uncertain age, he continues on his way. Few others are abroad; he passes a wagon, an axeman felling a dead tree in his field, a labourer pissing into the ditch. Wisps of mist float here and there above the fields, dissipating like dreams in the rising light.
Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood
A campfire blazed at the center of Star Mother’s camp, the cultists swarming around it to partake of the evening meal. He remembered from childhood the huge vats of tasteless bean soup that was served night after night. He was told to be patient because scrumptious feasts awaited them on Atria. He never believed it. What he did believe was that once Star Mother’s church put its suicide plan into effect, you couldn’t eat anything when you were dead.
Desert Guardian by Karen Duvall
Homework Assignment: How brave are you? Would you be willing to taste something new? That's your challenge, and then write about the experience in 100 words or less. If that's too daring, go ahead and describe either the worst or the best taste you've ever experienced (and survived to tell about). It can be from either your point of view, or the POV of a character in a story you're working on. Don't be afraid to combine other senses, but focus on taste for this exercise. Post your creation in the comments section. If you prefer to choose something from your WIP that you feel is an effective use of taste, that's fine, too.