Taste: The Neglected Sense

A great article on writing with the five senses on the Writer’s Relief blog gave me a much-needed prod: I have been neglecting one of the best senses in my writing! My mystery novel, set in the Arkansas Ozarks, features several scenes with characters eating and drinking; I’d fleshed out the sights, sounds, and smells, but completely left out taste. Bad writer!

So let me expound on the idea of writing with the five senses. First and foremost: do it! Don’t use bland adjectives like “pretty” or “cozy,” describe what exactly makes the thing pretty or cozy.

Next, know what order to put your descriptions in. When you are introducing a person, place or thing, first ask yourself, is the narrator approaching from afar, or is the narrator suddenly thrust very close to it?

If the narrator is approaching (which is pretty much the normal way most people/places/things will be introduced), start with sight, the most long-range sense humans have. Give a few (say, three) telling visual details to orient the reader. Then come in a little closer with sounds and ambient feelings (hot or cold, wind blowing, etc.). Come in even closer with scent and touch. And don’t forget taste, the sense that puts your person/place/thing inside the very body of the narrator, and hopefully, the reader.

If you’re introducing something in a sudden way (your narrator turns and bumps into someone unexpectedly), the order of intimacy will be reversed.

Obviously, sensory details will depend on the context, for example, if your narrator is blindfolded or deafened. Yet you must not forget to give us these sensory details as soon as your character walks into a new setting or meets a new person, or you run the risk of leaving your reader floating in limbo.

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