Real Life Sensory Lesson
But Taste is So Hard!…
I get that all the time from writer after writer who always seem to be under the misunderstanding that to taste something, the character must actually be chewing on something.
So when I say use all five senses every five hundred words in a story to really add in character and depth, the complaint about taste comes popping up.
So here is what happened today…
Kris and I had walked to a great lunch spot in the Arts District of Las Vegas. Day was warm, not too hot, sun was out, flowers blooming along the sidewalks. (Yes, flowers bloom here in the winter.)
For lunch I had a wonderful steak salad with tomatoes and avocado. Yummy.
So we were headed back when suddenly we got hit with this fantastic smell of chocolate cake fresh out of the oven. Thick, rich, and consistent.
It seems that there is a new building, just finished, along our walk that now holds what is called Pastry Academy of Las Vegas. And I think they must have fans blowing out into the neighborhood the smells of what they were cooking.
Chocolate cake smell at that moment. Heavy, rich, gain-weight chocolate cake.
Wow, was that thick. And by the time I had walked a dozen steps through the smell I realized my mouth was watering and I was tasting chocolate cake.
I could actually taste it, and remember the last time I had chocolate cake.
Now granted, I wanted a piece of that cake in my mouth, but I didn’t need to bite into a piece to still taste it.
And that is just one example of how taste is done in fiction. Memories and smells and even pictures often bring up a specific taste. And how that character reacts to the memory or the smell or the image helps the reader understand the history of the character.
So that happened today in such a stark way that I remembered it and thought I would use the incident here to make a point. Use taste to round your characters, give them a past, give them opinions.
I have to admit, both Kris and I loved that smell and I will wager that right in that area we walked slower than normal. I didn’t notice, because I was enjoying the smell and the taste of the cake far too much.
One of the most valuable lessons I ever learned from you and Kris was to use all five senses at least once in every major scene. Incredible how much it adds to the story. As a bonus, it also helps keep the conscious mind at bay because it enables the characters to take over the story (as they should). Excellent post, Dean.
Ditto for me! I’ve just started sending out short stories to magazines again. (After an interval of focusing on novels.) I’m getting personal rejections (rather than form rejections), and a consistent comment from the editors is that my story is “vivid.” I suspect it’s those five senses at work. 😉
One of the most immersive books I ever read was Signal to Noise by Eric Nylund. It’s cyberpunk and extremely strange, but his use of all five senses immerses you. When he mentioned that “suddenly logging out of the bubble left him with the taste of ammonia and the sensation of shattering glass under his fingertips”, I knew I was in the presence of a master.