Picture a candlelit dinner that ends with dry champagne and juicy strawberries dipped in dark chocolate, the sweet and tart flavors mingle on the characters’ tongues as they look into each other’s eyes and think about a mingling of another sort. Can you almost taste that moment?
If you can, then I have successfully demonstrated the power the description of taste has over the reader. This power is what you need to exercise when you write romance. Even though the sense of taste is, hands down, the most difficult one to put into your writing, it is nevertheless essential that you do so.
One of the powers of the sense of taste is that taste is linked to smell and can also evoke memories. (For more on the sense of smell, see my post for June 29.) “Food has the power to evoke emotion. Taste can inspire the imagination and trigger memories of the past,” says Krysten Hammond, in an article called “Writing Sense: The Sense of Taste.” She groups foods into three categories: savory foods, comfort foods, and sweet foods. Each category has the ability to connect characters to different experiences, from the worldly sensuousness of the savory, to the coziness of comfort food, to the decadence and abandon of sweets.
We often believe writing about taste is difficult because there are limited opportunities for the action. I mean, just how many scenes can one write with the characters sitting down to dinner or noshing between meals? Laurie Alice Eakes reminds us that there are more opportunities for exploring taste than merely relying on food. “We also taste in other ways. Fear brings a flavor to our mouths, a dry, tinny sensation. Your character wakes up from a blow on the head and has a foul taste in one’s mouth.” In her article, “Writing with Good Senses Part V: Taste,” she suggests another way to include this sense other than with the use of food. “Your character is traveling on a bicycle, motorcycle, or horse. The road is dusty. He tastes—what is in the area? Alkali? Copper? Or maybe she’s lying in the grass nibbling on a blade of it. Yes, this is technically eating, but it’s not a meal or snack.”
Of course, the ultimate place for the sense of taste is when the hero and heroine discover each other using this sense in the most intimate ways. Possibly the best article I have found that describes intimate ways to taste is “Awaken Her Senses,” in Best Life Magazine. The section on page 72 entitled “Taste: Your flavor awakened me and I have been hungry ever since,” by Daphne Merkin, vividly describes the many ways and places that lovers can explore each other using taste. “What I can still taste on my tongue…is a musky essence of his skin, fragrant with artifice (the soap and cologne) and cut with reality (the perspiration brought on by physical exertion).” She describes the taste of his breath, “slightly minty, with a papery undertone of cigarette smoke,” and after they made love, “I would lean over and run my tongue along the side of his neck, half ingesting and half inhaling the taste of him.”
When the circumstances of our plots offer such an opportunity to showcase this sense, we as writers must seize the moment in our characters’ lives and make the most of it.
I doubt that I have always used the sense of taste as effectively as I might. The following short passage from my WIP Time Enough to Love, is one in which I have actually managed to used taste:
She bit into the succulent roasted squab, her favorite dish, then dared glance back to Lord Brayton’s table again. He was staring at her. Alyse stopped, teeth sunk in the squab’s leg. The delicate, flavorful meat turned rancid in her mouth, its luscious smell now noisome. She dropped the morsel back onto her trencher with nerveless fingers.
Having now written this post, however, I see places in the passage where the description of taste can be certainly be enhanced. Ah, the glory of revision!
Do you include the sense of taste in your writing as much as you should? Do you create opportunities for this sense to “shine” in your works? Please leave a comment and thanks for sharing!