Monday, November 23, 2009

In Your Face

Have you ever wondered what something tastes like?

Most of us know about common everyday foods. And we've all heard the old line about unknown or exotic meat - tastes like chicken.

But what about something you don't know?

Using the senses of taste and smell to boost the reader's experience is one way to bring your writing to life. I put them together because almost any strong smell can be tasted in the back of your throat. A nice red wine is wonderful. Burning rubber, not so much.

But what about those things we've never tasted?

If it's a food, a character can read ingredients from a menu or recipe. Or a character can say or think something like, "It's really sweet and topped with a raisin sauce," or whatever.

But what if it's not a food?

Maybe Cognac and you don't drink. A liquid medicine. Or your character accidentally sprays furniture polish in her face. The possibilities are endless.

Read. You'll probably find your answer online.

Ask. Someone will know.

Experiment. Spray the polish on your finger and take a deep whiff. You should be able to describe it well enough for your readers.

After all . . . we are writers.

12 comments:

Jackie Houchin said...

Good tips, Carol. As an aside I was struggling to tell someone how a persimmon tasted. Sweet and ... hmm...not tart, sour, bitter. I finally came up with astringent to describe that funny "dry" after taste. Now, which of my characters is ... astringent! Ha-ha. Check out our recipes & mysteries blog at www.writersinresidence.blogspot.com today. And keep those posts coming - I like your handy, helpful and often off the wall topics.

Elspeth Antonelli said...

Excellent advice, Carol. I try to remember to have my characters use all their senses. A whiff of perfume, a bitter medicine, the smoothness of a stair rail. Different characters are aware of different things and two characters in my WIP are rather fond of their food!

Elspeth

Sheila Deeth said...

Good tips. Smell and texture are a large part of taste

Carol Kilgore said...

Jackie - Thank you. Off the wall . . . that's me. You never know what you'll find here Under the Tiki Hut. Neither do I. I'll check out your recipes.

Elspeth - I like when different characters are aware of different things. Some of my characters are rather fond of food, too.

Sheila - So true about texture. I should've mentioned it, too. I don't like the texture of shredded wheat cereal, yet I love Triscuits. Go figure.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Interesting post!

Since I write an epicurean mystery, this is helpful for me. The characters tend to use their senses a lot more than in my Myrtle Clover series. But I've never really thought of it that way!

Elizabeth
Mystery Writing is Murder

Galen Kindley--Author said...

Good point I’d not considered. In my WIP, I have my characters eat some not very good food, but I say something bland, like, “Oh, that doesn’t taste good.” What a weak effort! Thanks to you, I’m gonna go back and revise!

Best Regards, Galen

Imagineering Fiction Blog

Carol Kilgore said...

Elizabeth - With an epicurean mystery, I think sensory input would rank high. All the herbs and spices and luscious aromas. I made myself hungry.

Galen - Good for you! I'm certain you can do better.

Conda V. Douglas said...

Excellent post, great ideas, Carol. We need to use all the senses in our writing. We are so visually oriented that's easy to forget.

Carol Kilgore said...

Thanks, Conda. When I write first draft, I see the movie in my head. Things tend to be mostly visual and verbal. It's on succeeding drafts where I can think about adding meat and more sensory elements.

cassandrajade said...

I need to ask other people how things taste because my sense of taste is completely warped. I know this because when I taste something and tell my friends it is really good and sweet, they taste it and usually gag. This is probably why I am not a good cook. Still this is good advice and is useful to remember that our characters have a sense of taste, it is often overlooked.

Terry Odell said...

Great advice. As a frequent judge of contests, I see a lack of using all the senses in writing. Taste, smell, and touch are often neglected in favor of long, flowery 'visual' descriptions.

Food can also evoke very strong memories for characters. I have a scene in When Danger Calls where the heroine brings him tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich (she can only cook "kid food") and it opens a font of memories for him -- and serves as a way to create an emotional bond between characters on top of it!

Carol Kilgore said...

Cassandra - What a great character you'd make! While maybe not so wonderful in real life, in a novel a skewed sense of taste would be a great attribute for a character.

Terry - You're so right about smells and tastes evoking memories. I know they do for me.