The secret to the sense of taste in writing.

20150817_100721Over the past few weeks I have been writing about the five senses. I have written about sight, hearing, touch, and smell but today I’m writing about the sense of taste.
The sense of taste is often called the missing sense because eating doesn’t always feature in writing which leads me to two questions.
1. Does literary characters even eat?
2. Is it really necessary to add taste.
The answer to both of those is yes.
Yes literary characters eat. Go look at Percy and his blue cake or Peeta and his bread.
Also the sense of taste really helps readers relate to the characters. After all who can’t relate to someone eating?

The fun thing about taste is that there are all kinds of ways to use it.
Things you can do with the sense of taste.
• Taste is a gateway to the past.
Sometimes eating something can take you back to a specific time, a specific meal. You can use this to show a part of your character’s past.
• Some emotions have a taste.
You know how when you lose something the best way to describe how you feel is bitter. Or when you score points on a video game you would call it a sweet victory.
So sometimes taste isn’t simply for food but for emotions as well.
• You can also use it in descriptions by making reverences to things your readers could have tasted. If you say the walls were a puke green colour you give your readers that taste of puke even if just for a moment. With the simple word like this you leave them feeling disgusted by a simple object.
• Taste is relatable.
I already said this but it’s true. When you describe your character enjoying a cup of coffee over half the world’s population would be able to relate to your character. And all the people who dislike coffee can still see that your character likes something and relate to the pure fact of liking something.

I want to make this post a little different from my others since it is the last post in the series.
So let me tell you what I’m going to do. I’ll continue with the theory and the HOW TO for now but I promise that there will be something cool at the bottom of this post.
If you want to skip to that you can but you will most likely miss out on the important stuff.

There is a whole list of words used to describe tastes.
List of words to describe taste.
acidic
biting
brackish
briny
dry
flavorful
fruity
full-bodied
gamy
gross
hot
juicy
peppery
rank
rich
sharp
succulent
sugary
sweet
syrupy
tangy
tart
zesty
zingy

This is just an example list I’m sure there is tons more words for taste.
The best thing to keep in mind when writing about taste though is the four categories of sweet, sour, bitter and salty.
Every taste can fall into one of these categories and affect the character and reader differently.
Perhaps by now you think I’m mental because I say that the sense of taste affects the reader. Well I believe that it does.
You know how when you are reading a book and the character rolls her eyes you just have to do it too. Well it’s sort of the same for taste. If the character tastes it the reader tastes it too.
Most of the time it’s not really a big thing but when you say something is sweet your reader will taste this on the tip of their tong because that is where the taste buds for sweet things are.
So when you are describing a taste you might want to add where it is being tasted.
Which part of the tong tastes what?
The tip of the tong as I already said tastes the sweet thing but also the salt.
The sides of the tong taste the things that are sour.
The back of the tong tastes the bitter things.
Now remember that everything should be used in moderation.
Describing in too much detail how something tastes is boring. After all I already know how a burger tastes so there is no reason to write two full pages about it.
Taste descriptions is normally short. You mention how something smells, say the person bit into the food and give two or three words. That’s it.

Alright it seems I have come to the fun part of the post.

Fun part

Let’s start this party with some random facts.
Random facts about taste.
• We have almost 10000 taste buds in our mouths.
• Insects have the most highly developed sense of taste.
• Fish can taste with their fins, tales and their mouths.
• Girls have more taste buds then boys.

Cool things from books that might be relevant to this post by proving taste and food plays important roles in stories.
Well food plays an important part in most people’s lives and in quite a few books as well.
In Percy Jackson, by Rick Riordan Percy’s mum makes blue deserts.
“My mom’s funny that way, celebrating special occasions with blue food. I think it’s her way of saying anything is possible. Percy can pass seventh grade. Waffles can be blue. Little miracles like that.” – Percy Jackson and the lightning thief.
I feel this says a lot about his mother’s character and it shows gives us insight into the feel of the story.

In Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson you get the woman’s food which is sweet rice and fruit while the men’s food is meat with a spicy sauce.
In these books social ranking plays an important part and it feels to me like this really helps show that difference.
Another example from Brandon Sanderson is his Mistborn series. Here the things they swallow are the source of their power.
I say swallow because the source of their power is metal which they swallow. (Don’t worry they eat food too.)
In this case it’s not only used as a piece of world building but also the source for magic.

Everyone knows about the bread in the hunger games. It was used to inspire Katniss to continue living. The bread itself is used as a symbol of hope.

I have more examples but they mostly repeat what I have said so far.
Here we can see that food can play a lot of roles in writing.
Character, world building, magic system and object of hope.

I know this post is about taste not food but I think it goes without telling that if the food is important how you describe it matters. That is why taste is important too.

Writing exercise to close up with.
Write a fight scene in which the sense of taste plays a role.
Make sure that the tastes enhance and add to the scene.
I don’t care what kind of fight it is. It can be anything from an argument to a fully fledged fantasy battle.

I hope you guys enjoyed this post and found it at least a little useful. The sense of taste really is a lot of fun when you get a hand on it.
Have you ever written a description using the sense of taste or have you never really thought about it?

The power of smells in writing.

This is my fourth post on the five senses and today is about the sense of smell.IMG_5420
There is a link between the sense of smell and memory and yet it is often dismissed and forgotten about since most stories are ruled by the visual sense.

So far in this post series I have covered sight, hearing and touch but for now let’s move on to smell.
Do you use the sense of smell in your writing a lot? Do you sometimes struggle finding the right words?
George William Septimus Piesse a perfumer created the odaphone which is a sent scale that classifies smells by taking an approach similar to music.
The idea is that there are three different sorts of smells. Top smells, middle smells and bass smells.
Top smells are the scents you smell first. They are the sharp and fresh smells.
Examples of top smells are
• Basil.
• Citronella.
• Lemon.
• Lemongrass.
• Lime,
• Orange.
• Peppermint.
• Spearmint.

The middle smells are generally floral, herbal and spicy. You can normally smell these once the top smells have faded a little. The smell of these tends to last a little longer.
Examples of middle smells are
• Black pepper.
• Chamomile.
• Cinnamon.
• Lavender.
• Nutmeg.
• Rose.
• Tobacco.
The bass smells are rich heavy and thick. They are warming and usually woods and spices.
Examples o bass smells are
• Beeswax
• Cedar wood.
• Ginger.
• Sandalwood.
• Vanilla.

Now I am still sort of experimenting with this sense and theory so I can’t tell you for example where smell of cooking bacon falls but I hope this is useful anyway.
Writing exercise.
What smell fits with what season?
Make a list of the different smells that remind you of each season.

“Nothing revives the past so completely as the smell that was once associated with it.” – Vladimir Nabokov.
The sense of smell is the most accurate sense. People can remember with a %65 accuracy after a year what something smelled like while they can only remember with %50 accuracy what they saw.
This means that the sense of smell can be a really helpful tool when it comes to bringing a scene to life since just the mention of a smell can bring back both good and bad memories to a reader, and give them the feel of the scene.
Example.
The smell of vanilla wafted through the air. Nava sat down on the plush couch just as the old woman came in carrying two coffee cups. She handed one to Nava and found her own chair. She could smell the coffee was strong and the smell of it washed away her worries. Nava sat back and took a sip of the brew.
VS.
The smell of smoke burned Nava’s nose and she put her sleeve over her nose. She stared in horror at the pot sprouting flames on the stove.
As she neared she grabbed a dish cloth and used it to pick up the hot pot. The smell was worse up close. As the smell of burning sugar rose into the air around her Nava just barely kept herself from gagging. She tossed the entire pot into the sink and turned open the tap. As steam filled the little kitchen she sighed.
So much for making toffee.
As you can hopefully see by my two examples the sense of smell does not only bring back a certain feeling but also a place.
Different places smell differently and their sent can be an important part of how you describe them.

Writing exercise.
Write down a list of smells you would expect to find in each of the following places.
• A perfume shop.
• A fish shop.
• A cheese shop.
• A coffee shop.
• A flower shop.
• A bread shop.
Now pick one of these places and write a scene that takes place between a customer and an employee using High smells, Medium smell and bass smells.
This scene could be something like an employee trying to sell the customer cheese or the customer complaining about the scent of a specific flower.

The sense of smell can’t be written like the other four senses.
There are no words for specific smells.
Sure you get words such as smoky or citrus but if you want to say that the smelled like strawberries you will have to use those exact words. You would have to use comparison.
When describing sounds we can say there was a shrill whistle or you would say the dog barked. We don’t have these sorts of words for smell so we use comparison.
I hope you found this helpful and whether you do or don’t let me know.
How important do you think the sense of smell is in writing? How often do you use it? Where on the odaphone do you think the smell of bacon falls?

using the sense of touch in writing

Sense of touch.IMG_5383
This is my third post in my post series on the five senses. So far I have covered sight and sound but today I’m talking about touch.
You can tell your reader how something looks and you can tell your reader how something sounded but I believe that the sense of touch is what truly makes the difference between telling and showing. It brings a scene to life.
The problem with the sense of touch is the simple question of how to use it effectively.
You don’t want to add too much of it and you don’t want to use it when describing everything but for the moment let’s simply get creative.
When it comes to the sense of touch what words you use are important. I suggest that over time you gather words specifically on the sense of touch and write them down.
The reason I say the words you choose are important is just because you have two soft pieces of fabric doesn’t mean that they feel the same. The same goes for a rock and a brick, they are both hard but not in the same way.

“All the words I use in my stories can be found in the dictionary- it’s just a matter of arranging them in the right sentences.” – Somerset Maugham.
I like this quote because it focuses on the importance of word choice. I’m not really one to go on about just the right word but I feel that I can make an exception in this case.
So remember pick your words carefully. A good way to better yourself in the skill of picking the right words for description is to simply run your hands of things and describing what you feel. Waiting in a line? Whip out your notebook and start describing what the material of your shirt feels like.
List of feely words. (58 words)
1. Limp.
2. Pithy.
3. Pulpy.
4. Satiny.
5. Silky
6. Coarse.
7. Stiff.
8. Strong.
9. Firm.
10. Sharp.
11. Barbed.
12. Horned.
13. Itch.
14. Throb.
15. Grainy.
16. Flush.
17. Even.
18. Frictionless.
19. Porous.
20. Rubbery.
21. Springy.
22. Elastic.
23. Supple.
24. Wobbly.
25. Stirring
26. Burning.
27. Prickling.
28. Stinging.
29. Tingling.
30. Spongy.
31. Gritty.
32. Jagged.
33. Soft.
34. Smooth.
35. Hard.
36. Slick.
37. Bristly.
38. Fluffy.
39. Furry.
40. Hairy.
41. Leafy.
42. Sizzling.
43. Warm.
44. Cold.
45. Dusty.
46. Rough.
47. Abrasive.
48. Crumbling.
49. Lumpy.
50. Powdery.
51. Sandy.
52. Scratchy.
53. Tufted.
54. Woolly.
55. Stiff.
56. Velvety.
57. Doughy.
58. Thorny.

These are all descriptive words but you will also need words that describe the action of the touch. You will need words for the touch itself.

Much shorter list of touchy words. (11 words.)
1. Grazed.
2. Swept.
3. Brushed.
4. Scrape.
5. Shave.
6. Kiss.
7. Pinch.
8. Flick.
9. Tickle.
10. Scratch.
11. Creep.
Some of these words are close to being an onomatopoeic word.
An onomatopoeic word is a word that sounds like the thing it describes. Onomatopoeic words are useful in creating the feel of a scene.
Since I’m not a master at this I will leave more of this for another post.
The important thing about these words is that they strike sensation in the reader. Past experiences will tell them how it feels and take the story out of their imaginations and truly make them experience what your POV character is experiencing.
Describing something with the sense of touch can be interesting because if done right you can bring up its entire history in two details. You can provoke both sensation and emotion in a reader.

Writing practice.
Pick up an object. While holding it in your hands feel the texture and shape. Now think about how it was made. What has happened to it in the past? If it is made of metal then think of how it was moulded. If it has dents in it ask you how it had gotten them.
Now pick two or three of these details and write a description of this object. Why did you choose those specific details?

Using the sense of touch to create intimacy.
We can’t touch something that’s far away. But an intimate scene where everything is close and personal you can, that’s why using the sense of touch in these scenes are so important. Whether you are writing a sex scene or a scene of a mother holding her newborn baby you want to use the sense of touch because it shows the closeness between them. It shows the bond and intimacy.
In scenes that aren’t specifically intimate you can also use the sense of touch to highlight what is important. If you’re POV character is touching something then there is a closeness that makes the reader notice things.

I’ll leave you here with one last writing exercise.
Think of an activity you like to do. Maybe it’s swimming, maybe it’s simply lying in bed reading.
Think about the sensual part of doing this activity. Warm covers? dry sand beneath your toes?
Write a scene about someone doing this.
What words did you chose? What sensation do these words produce?

Do you agree with what I said here? Do you think I missed something? Do you have any specific writing practice you do when it comes to describing things?
I hope this was helpful and for a reminder next week I’m tackling the sense of smell and I hope you come back to read that too.