Thursday, July 31, 2008

Day 4 -- Sense of Taste

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.


Esther Jade said...

I actually have a scene in my WIP that the last few posts have been challenging me to go and beef up with sensory descriptions. This is the piece with taste:

The first berry’s soft flesh broke apart to reveal its inner sweetness. Vera’s stomach grumbled as the first taste of food reminded it how long it had been since its last meal. The next berry was tart, its juice pinching at the sides of her mouth. Vera made a face and swallowed it quickly. Grey said the tart ones were too young and the floury ones too old. None of them would kill you, though.

cb said...

4 taste

It was strange fruit. Some kind of tropical thing. She picked it up, feeling the weight of it, big in her hand, and smelled it. It had fuzzy skin, soft to the touch and smelled sweet, inviting. She took a bite and her teeth easily sunk into it.

Juice poured down her chin and she caught it with her other hand before it dripped onto the floor. This was going to be messy. The soft fruit was cool in her mouth and quenched her thirst as well as her hunger.

It tasted like islands to her. Like it could transport her to a different world. She leaned her mouth over her hand anticipating the mess and took another mouthful.

Valerie Everhart said...

I always leave out taste in my description. Heck, I go sparing on all my ways of description, for that matter. I'm getting a lot out of your workshop that will really help my writing. Thanks!

CalicoKelsey said...

Layla bit into the Hershey's bar and forced a smile, fighting the impulse to gag as the sweet, cloying, chocolate coated her tounge and throat as she swallowed it. She absolutely hated chocolate, the vaugely metallic, gritty flavor of it, the way it stayed in your teeth and in your mouth like swallowing glue. But he didn't know it, and Layla wasn't aobut to ruin the first gift her biological father ever gave her based on something as trivial as preference. So she swallowed it like a tithe, knowing at least that Jerry, who knew she ate a whole bag of chocolate chips as a child and had hated it since, would be waiting with her favorite lemon bar when she got home.

CalicoKelsey said...

Esther I like your last line, it's strong and showed why she was eating the berries, and made you wonder who Grey was.
CB are you describing a peach? I also like how you used more than one description, which was appropiate since the character didn't know what it was. It makes me wonder where she lived that was so far away from peaches.

Esther Jade said...

cb - I loved your second paragraph! Very evocative.

calicokelsey - What an interesting perspective - to see what eating chocolate would be like for someone who didn't enjoy it.

cb said...

As I read through, I realize how fun it is to get taste added in.
One novel series I read had lots of scenes and dialogue around meals and I think it is so enjoyable to eat with and taste with the characters.

So, with all these entries, I get a my own senses stirred.

I especially loved the anti-chocolate because I myself do not much like chocolate (missing that gene) and everyone around me loves it and I have also eaten it to share anyway.

I am also enjoying the sense of characters through the descriptions and the sense of story too.

Tena B said...

Im back Im off today so I can get on earier today besides I want to read tonight so I better do this now bc when I get online I cant pull myself away. I hope its not to longer but I just started to write

Angel need something to relax her, after working 12 hours for 5 days. She had to take on a second job to pay the bills after her husband left for the bimbo he left her for. She went to the store to get her two bottles of wine. She will just pick two and try them, she will try anything once no matter what it taste like. She grab one that was peach and one that was a desert wine, she can only hope they were good. Angel pulled in at home, turned the music on and poured her a glass of the desert wine first this one she hadn’t tried before the other one she had but a different brand. She grab her book and curled up on the sofa to read. She began to read took her glass to take a drink, oh my did it taste awful it reminder her of rotten peanuts how could any one drink this with desert. She didn’t know she thought they was nuts. She got up and got her a glass of the peach, sat back down and drank. Now this is what she liked it reminded her of biting into a fresh peach juicy and sweet. She got back to her relaxing with a book.

CalicoKelsey said...

Thanks for the comments about the anti-chocolate post. I don't like chocolate so when it came up I instantly had to write about it. Like the character I too ate an entire bag of chocolate chips with similar consquences. Oddly enough adding your own real-life situations was a post on Fangs Fur Fey not to long ago:

cb said...

Hey, I would love to read that post, but the link isn't working. Can you check and see if it's the right address.

Genene Valleau said...

Loved reading all the examples. Definitely a lot of talent here!

I was going to continue the homework in a dog's point of view. However, thinking of some of the things that my dogs eat, I did not have the stomach to be that creative. :)

Since I'm editing a manuscript, I looked for a passage using a good description of taste. Yikes! Had trouble finding one. So my edits will include using all our senses as Karen has talked about this week.

Here's a short paragraph that I'll tweak as I go through all of the manuscript:

Zach lifted the edge of the bread. "Where's the mayonnaise?"

"All that fat would settle in your arteries before evening."

Zach stifled a sigh and bit into the sandwich, the least foreign-looking of the food in front of him. OK, the turkey was good, but the bread tasted like a mouthful of dried straw flavored with sawdust chips. An entire jar of mayo wouldn't have convinced his taste buds that this was his favorite burger.

With Lauren watching expectantly, Zach washed the sandwich down with iced tea before it lodged permanently on the roof of his mouth. He nodded and took another bite, not wanting to steal the smile from Lauren's face once again.

Margay said...

The first bite is heaven on a spoon and I let it linger on my tongue for as long as I can stand the suspense before swallowing. Is there anything more delectable than the sweetness of the creamy filling as it floats on your tongue and teases the senses with a hint of vanilla blended within the cream cheese base, held in the arms of a graham cracker bottom? Who says chocolate is an aphrodisiac when cheese cake is near? Perhaps if we combine the two...ah, heaven.

Karen Duvall said...

Hey, cb, I checked the link and it's working now so try again.

Sorry I haven't been by the past couple of days, but the day job has me shackled this week. Ugh. And I've been emailing back and forth with my agent as she prepares to send Knight's Curse on its maiden voyage to publishers. Very exciting! I just need to get my bio together, and there aren't enough hours in the day to do all I need to do. Sigh.

Hey, you guys are doing great! Talk about being transported through sight, sound, smell and taste! Amazing stuff. A lot of your samples are far better than some of what I've read in published books. Good job!

Tomorrow is the sense of touch, so be prepared. We're going to play a game. Hahaha! And I'll do the drawing on Saturday and announce winners on my blog, so you'll have to stop by to find out if you won.

Happy writing!

cb said...

Still not working for me, don't know why. Is there another way to reach the link?

What kind of day job do you have?

I think you should be writing FULL TIME SOON!!! Yeah for you!!!!!

Virginia Lady said...

Those are great examples of how to use your senses to describe a scene. I love the before and after example. Really makes it clear. Great workshop!

Karen Duvall said...

cb, I'm self-employed as a graphic designer, but my clients are my, uh, boss. I've got a few of 'em and they put me through my paces, let me tell you. But thanks so much for your vote of confidence! I'd love to write full time some day. It's a rare author who can do so, though.

Thanks, Virginia. I'm glad you're getting something out of this workshop. I haven't decided yet what Lisa will be "feeling" when I post tomorrow's lesson. I'm leaning toward pain, though. That gash in her arm's gotta hurt. 8^)

cb said...

You still have my vote.
You are awesome!
Thanks for this workshop too.
I am getting so much from it.

Karen Duvall said...

Thanks, cb. 8^) Try pasting this into your browser to access the article.

cb said...

just curious.
what does

Tena said...

thank you for your comment and good luck with the book do have books for sell I dont have a ebook and cant get things to download on my comuter and I really would love to have some of your books, and if you dont't mind me asking do you know of places where if we can look if we wanted to try and have our onw book looked at that we can find someone to do it.

Karen Duvall said...

cb, it's just a smiley face. The 8 is my glasses, the ^ is my nose, and the ) is my smile. 8^)

Tena, I have 2 print books and one e-novella. The links for buying them on are on my blog down the right hand side where you can see the covers. You'll have to scroll down a ways because they were pushed down by all the links I addded for this week's workshops.

Karen Duvall said...

Tena, regarding getting your book looked at, there are a variety of resources to help you in this process. I think one of the most helpful online resources for all writers is There's a great forum there where you can ask all kinds of questions and get some very helpful answers. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

I've been trying to add more description to my current WiP - this is a great mini-course!

Anyway, here's my take on taste:

Sabra's hair resembled the night sky just before the last light of the sun faded away – dark and red. Her skin was the color of tea with mare's milk.

That's a flavor that took some getting used to. I'd had tea, of course, with lemon and honey as a child and with goat's milk, sometimes. But Vidar and his warriors all drank their tea steeped until light wouldn't pass through it, dark and almost burned in flavor. Then they would walk to a mare, usually my mount, and pull on her teat until the warm, white milk splashed into the hot brew.

Mare's milk added a tangy, mellow flavor to the acidic tea. It tingled on the tongue and helped the strong tea ease down the throat. It certainly woke me up in the morning.

Karen Duvall said...

Well, Blogger has locked me out of my own blog because they think I'm running a spam blog. I have no idea what's going on, but the notice said it could take a couple of days before my blog is unlocked so I may not be able to post my last lesson. I'm so sorry! This is just bizarre. I'm thinking of moving my blog to Live Journal or one of the other blog hosting services. I'll still do my prize drawing this weekend, but if my blog isn't unlocked, I won't be able to announce the winners until later. Please be patient. Thanks! You guys are great!

Karen Duvall said...

Okay, I moved day 5's lesson to a new blog I just started on So if blogger is still locking me out on Friday, you can find the lesson at

Again, sorry for the inconvenience.

Laura Pellerin said...

"To live life to the fullest one must partake of all emotions, don't you think?" He popped the top off a can of soda and offered the girl a drink.
She swallowed a long draught, some of the sweet cola water flavored with black cherries and sugar and caramel spilled down her chin.

"There. That's better," he said, gently wiping excess liquid from her lips and face. "That's the flavor of a thirst quenching drink. Good, isn't it?"

The girl nodded, mutely thankful for his giving her a drink.

"Would you like me to help you quench another natural thirst?" he asked, gently checking her wrists.

The girl didn't answer, but watched his movements with the eyes of someone who until this moment has only tasted fear.

Crystal Quartz said...

Bitterness invaded her tongue as dark chocolate melted in the warmth of her dry mouth. Diffusing slowly, it turned silky and sensuous. There was no sweet delight in this stolen decadence. Bittersweet memories flooded her conscience, turning the thick goo on her tongue unpalatable. Little children, victims to the African chocolate slave trade, were whipped by slave drivers daily as they made chocolate. The taste turned to poison, and Rachel spat the mouthful of aromatic darkness onto the jungle floor, wiping her mouth with the back of her sweat-stained hand. Chocolate would never taste the same again.

Authoress said...

You know, my husband (and in-house rip-apart-the-draft person) always teases me for my "food scenes." He hates them. I, on the other hand, feel like a few words about what's being eaten give life to the world you've built, and reality to the scene. Like anything, you can overdo it. But I, for one, enjoy "food scenes."

Maybe I'm just hungry when I'm reading. :P

Marti Verlander said...

Surprised, Kayde pushed up to hands and knees, spitting dirt-turned-mud. From the corner of his eye, Rhuss’ figure wavered like summer heat as he stepped onto the railing and leaped down. A work boot slammed into Kayde’s ribs, lifting and rolling him. He struggled to get his uncooperative feet under him, finally made it.

A big fist dented his rock-hard stomach and ale spewed from his mouth. It tasted terrible going this direction, bile and ale and shame mingled. He’d never been so unprepared, never been hit so hard he couldn’t hold the punch, never spewed up his stomach’s contents in a fight.