Welcome to March on JPC AllenWrites! This month’s theme will be about how to invoke the senses when we write. Since I am doing my own version of NaNoWriMo with author Theresa Van Meter this month, my posts will be largely reposts from a few years ago. I’ll kick off the theme with a post on writing about taste and smell.
How Does That Taste?
Because the sense of taste can only occur in certain settings, writers may overlook it and not take advantage of it where they can. But writing about the sense of taste can bring a fresh perspective to a scene that is dominated by sights and sounds.
How a meal tastes can show the emotional state of your point of view (POV) character. If your character is eating a favorite food, and someone tells her bad news, she will find the food tasteless or disgusting. Conversely, your character eats something he usually avoids, but he’s in such a good mood, his distaste disappears.
Describing what tastes your character likes and dislikes gives readers insight into her character. If your character is critical or spoiled, then she would harshly describe how certain foods don’t meet her high standards. Or your character may eat something he hates so as not to hurt the feelings of the cook, giving readers clues about his personality. For more on food as writing inspiration, click here.
Words may be compared to tastes. A character makes a confession, and the words taste bitter. He says the name of a loved one, and it tastes sweet. For some people with a rare form of synesthesia, certain words really do stimulate a sense of taste.
Since smell and taste are so closely link, you can bring in taste to give a different spin on a smell. The odor of burning metal leaves a metallic taste. Sweet-scented flowers, the ocean, and fires all have a tastes to them.
Did You Smell That?
“There are fragrances. Beyond fragrances are smells, beyond smells are odors, and beyond odors are stenches. Beyond stenches is what I am about to write here.” \“The Pasture” by Patrick F.McManus
These three sentences are some of the best writing about the sense of smell that I’ve read. Using the sense of smell in my writing is something I need to work on. It’s the last sense of I think of because I have such a poor sense of smell. Unless a scent is especially strong, I just don’t notice it.
One way I have noticed the power of smell is its ability to trigger memories. No other sense works as well to recall past events. When I smell cooking onions, I immediately think I’m back at my grandmother’s house. Even if the smell is coming from the basement cafeteria at an elementary school, I still think of grandma. A smokey fire in reminds me of the wood burning stove that my grandparents had. Sunscreen, especially when mixed with the scent of bug repellant, sends me back to high school when I attended camp for marching band.
This unique aspect of smell inspires me as a crime writer. What if something tragic happened to a character at a young age, and now that the person is grown up, she can barely remember it? But when she encounters the same unusual odor that she smelled at the time of the tragedy, her memories come into focus.
Or a man is attacked and never saw who it was but did notice a distinct scent about the attacker. Months later, the man meets someone who smells the same way. With only this clue to go on, he begins digging into this person’s background.
In a lighter vein, describing horrible smells lends itself to humorous writing. The quote above comes from a story about how a terrible stench prevents a young man from enjoying his favorite fishing hole.
What authors do you think write about taste and smell effectively?