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Taste That Tags: writing senses

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…


Smelling of Roses Tags: writing tips

We all know that good stories engage the senses, but sometimes we need to remind ourselves how we can achieve this.

            Our sense of smell is one area we often don’t consider as much as the other senses. It is a more intrinsic part of us and not one we are always explicit about. But think of the ways that smell can add to a story.

            Firstly, smells can help with setting. Consider coconut sunscreen, fish and chips frying, ozone, rotting seaweed and candyfloss and you will have conjured up a seaside landscape without expressly saying so. Likewise antiseptic, boiled cabbage, urine, floor polish and fear might evoke a hospital or old people’s home.

            Smells can also help set an emotion. The sour odour of sweat can show a character is fearful, or a chemical smell might evoke danger and worry. The sweet smell of chocolate can bring happiness and (for me) that first coffee waft of the day brings relief and awakening.

            Other smells bring to mind a familiarity or history with a person: lavender for a grandmother or aftershave for a boyfriend; or with an activity like gingerbread at Christmas or pine with cleaning.

            A quick search on the internet told me that we react to different types of smell. Different websites offered varied lists but several agreed on the following: fragrant (florals and perfumes), citrus (lemon, lime etc), fruity (non citrus fruits), woody (pine and fresh cut grass), chemical (ammonia, bleach), sweet (chocolate, vanilla), minty (eucalyptus or camphor), toasted and nutty (popcorn, peanut butter), pungent (blue cheese, cigar smoke) and finally decay (rotting meat, sour milk). How many of these do I or you ever think to use in our writing?

            A poll by the Daily Mail printed in 2015 recorded the (British) nation’s favourite smells as fresh bread baking, cooking bacon and freshly cut grass. At the other end of the scale were bins, drains and body odour. Smelling from either category might determine your character’s mood at any point in time.

            But some smells are not static and can reflect a change happening in your story as well. Think of a couple arguing while the toast goes from that nice breakfast smell to the acrid odour of burning, or a cake cooking that turns to carbon while someone sleeps or forgets, or as happens where I live, a farmer starts spreading muck.

            And finally the act of smelling has entered our daily language. Will your detective smell something fishy, sniff out the truth or be put off the scent? Can your heroine perceive the sweet smell of success?

            As you write your next story, poem or nonfiction piece remember that a smell can offer the reader a short cut to a person, a place or a feeling and tell them something without you necessarily having to explain it.

            And you’ll be smelling of roses. 

This Week Monday 15th May
Category: Site News
Tags: new. writers abroad

Site News - Monday 15th May

Maggie has added this week's blog on expectations prompted by not hearing immediately from her children at the start of Mother's Day. What are your writing expectations? Do you always expect to write the 'next best thing' or do you need to moderate your expectations and work with goals and hopes instead?

Crilly had posted some writing prompts in the muses for the week. As always a selection of things for poets, non fiction or fiction writing using pictures, words or phrases. 

The May challenges and opportunities are open with a selection of competitions of different lengths to try or post something different you are working on. 

The Ad Hoc team continue to inspire on the bragging stool. Well done to all of them. Sue might be away this week but I have no doubt she will still get her challenge in to them...

The next edition of the magazine has been proof read and edited and I'm sure Jo will have it to everyone soon for a final check before it is released on the world.

The next formal chat is on Sunday 21st May with Vanessa in the chair. 11am CET I believe.

I hope I've covered everything. Apologies if I've missed anything or anyone. Have a good writing week!


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