Hey, SE Readers. Joan back with you today with the third in a series on using the five senses in writing. Today’s topic is about our sense of taste. If you missed the first two posts, you can read them by clicking on the following links:
Have you ever wondered why you think a particular item tastes like another one smells? That’s because the human brain often equivalates taste with smell.
For instance, I don’t like the taste of raw carrots, especially when they’re shredded in a salad. I think they taste like dirt. Have I eaten dirt? No, but I know what red clay smells like after a rain. That smell is what I think raw carrots taste like.
When we think of taste, food is usually the first thing to come to mind. Everyone has to eat, so it’s easy to write a scene in which a character is in a restaurant or preparing a meal at home. Writing a family story? Mention Grandma Turner’s homemade apple pie or Aunt Jane’s fried chicken. As with using sight and smell, you can draw the reader deeper into the story.
When writing about food, the regional setting of your book plays a role. We eat a lot of Mexican food in Texas. We call it Tex-Mex. While there are some similarities, if you travel to New Mexico, the Mexican cuisine is entirely different.
While lots of people like clam chowder, it’s probably more widely eaten in places like New England. Seafood is available almost anywhere, but it’s in ready supply in coastal areas.
As with setting, it’s important to portray the area accurately. People in the UK eat fish and chips. Here in the US, we call it fish and fries.
Jan Karon, author of the Mitford series, writes a lot of scenes using food and drink. I once read she started doing this while writing the draft of her first book. According to Karon, she was out of work and hungry much of the time, so she wrote about food for her own comfort.
The foods mentioned in her books became so popular, a Mitford cookbook was published. Loyal fans are familiar with Esther’s orange marmalade cake, Louella’s homemade yeast rolls, and Father Tim’s baked ham. Now they the recipes are readily available for those who enjoy cooking.
Making a character unique by giving them a taste for a specific food or drink helps to draw readers closer to them. In my Driscoll Lake series, Rachel has a fondness for margaritas. Stephanie loves guacamole.
Matt enjoys an occasional beer, but because of a family tendency toward alcoholism, Brian doesn’t drink any liquor. You could create a character who is a vegan and married to a meat-eater. Talk about contrast! This might lead to some interesting “discussions.”
Taste can help convey emotion. Your protagonist sits down to eat but receives some disturbing news. Or perhaps her dinner companion is one she loathes. Instead of enjoying the meal, her favorite food has become as tasteless as cardboard.
Don’t limit using the sense of taste to food. Accidentally getting soap in your mouth isn’t pleasant. Ever bitten your lip hard or had a tooth extracted? Then you know blood has a metallic taste.
In the film Lethal Weapon Three, Mel Gibson’s character Martin Riggs siphons gas from a vehicle. He gets a taste of the liquid and promptly spits it out. You could even have someone who falls face down in the mud and gets a mouth full of red clay.
Create a character with a fondness for fine cigars but only those from Cuba. Considering these became illegal in the United States in 1962, that tells you something about the person’s character. (Of note, US citizens can now legally smoke Cuban cigars, but it’s still illegal to buy or sell them.)
The possibilities of using the sense of taste are endless. Do you write about taste in your books? If so, share some examples. I’d love to hear what you’ve done.
In my next post, I’ll write about the sense of sound.