Testing Taste

I have to say taste isn’t a sense I use very often in my work because I’m not very good at writing it, though I’m trying to improve. Which is fine, we can know the theory behind the writing even if we’re not very good at it ourselves and if we know it we might actually find a moment where we can apply it effectively. If I was going to recommend writer who is good at writing taste I’d say Joanne Harris, but if you read Chocolat you will want chocolate, I’m not a big chocolate eater but it made me crave chocolate.

What I like about the way Joanne Harris describes taste is the way it is so often associated with memory. Often it isn’t simply a description of what the character is tasting as much as what it evokes, as we discussed about scent, which, I feel and you can disagree, adds to the vividness of the description. I think also, though I may be wrong, that another reason Harris is good at describing taste in relation to food is because she enjoys food and knows a lot about it. I’m not saying you have to know about food to write good descriptions of food related taste, it’s where I think Harris’ descriptive flare in the area comes from.

Another method I’ve seen taste deployed in is the taste of people, the taste of kissing mouths or the taste of skin. The simple reason for this is the erotic quality of taste. I know I mentioned this about scent as well but when it comes to taste it’s not simply that you’re not paying attention as with scent but because the only person you’re likely to taste is a lover. Unless something probably unfortunate and slapstick happens. Taste features a lot in romantic fiction, romance subplots and, I assume because I haven’t read any, erotica. This is probably another reason why I don’t use taste much in my writing because I don’t tend to include sex scenes and, frankly, as Charlotte kisses Bran a lot if I described the taste of his mouth every time it would likely get tedious. However, it can be very effective, particularly when describing the first time characters kiss after a build-up. A first kiss can be new and exciting and to completely suck all the excitement out of it I’ll say using taste is the kissing equivalent of the first time a character goes into a room and looks around. Perhaps another reason I don’t use taste a huge amount for Charlotte kissing Bran is the level of interest, emotion and eroticism it entails that from Charlotte’s perspective certainly isn’t there at the beginning of their relationship. Though I’m certain Bran has the taste of her mouth memorised.

To approach taste from another angle we also have to consider unpleasant taste. The sort that immediately jumps to my mind is the kind of taste we get when a smell is particularly strong, and often unpleasant. If we use taste connected to smell we can amplify the effect of that smell and often make it more disgusting. Similarly a forced kiss can taste disgusting enhancing the unpleasantness and invasiveness of the kiss. Quite often characters who force kisses on other people are described as having bad breath or having eaten something unpleasant and this has become a cliché not solely because of the discomfort but because of the way the character being kissed perceives the person kissing them. So there is emotion tied into the taste rather than just the taste itself.

When we use taste we have to consider the perspective of the character that it relates to. At its most basic it would be jarring for a character with no interest in food to describe the taste of food in great detail. They may mention it but it’s unlikely to be a deep description because their interests and therefore, to a degree their knowledge, would limit this description. On the other hand if we were writing a chef who loved their job it would be strange if they never described the food they ate and such a character may give deep descriptions of food. Once again it’s part of description that needs to be played around with to find what works for us. And, as I said, not everything does work and that’s alright.

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Published by Jesse

I'm a writer and academic specialising in fantasy fiction and creative writing theory. I'm allergic to pretentiously talking about fiction and aim to be unashamedly ‘commercial’. Surely all fiction is commercial anyway, or what’s the point in publishing it?

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1 Comment

  1. Using taste in writing is fraught with danger. Your protagonist casually dunks his slice of madeleine cake in his tea, and the next thing you know he’s wittering on and on and on about how his girlfriend left him.

    Liked by 1 person

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