Posted by: Jodi | August 28, 2013

Eating your Words – Using Taste to Further Your Fiction

Once upon a time we had a discussion about the use of smell in fiction and how it can evoke an emotional response.  Today we are going to tackle another sense that is easy to forget, taste.

Taste is another of the senses that can be engaged in a story.  Think about how taste plays a role in normal life.  Upon waking many may crave the taste of the bitter coffee to start the day.  When we are stressed we want to eat fatty or strongly flavored foods, like chocolate.  In most cultures meaningful events are centered around food.  Holidays will generally have a central meal to celebrate and bring the family together. Historically one of the greatest feasts of the year celebrated the bringing in of the harvest.  Foods and eating both play an important role in weddings, funerals, baby showers, and sporting events.

Everyone can name a favorite food or two, and they have preferences for what they eat for what kind of event.  For some, a night on the town isn’t complete without a stop for something sweet on the way home.

A sense of taste has just as important role in fiction as it does in real life.  Not only will characters have preferred foods but like us they will also crave different things depending on their emotional state.

Taste can be used in other ways as well.  Everything has a taste and a texture.  A character in a fight might taste his own blood and sweat. Someone traveling might taste dust when the wind kicks up, or if they are in a horse train.  For some reason each of the authors I’ve read during these last two weeks have insisted on describing what tastes their characters encounter when they kiss.

I’m not going to come up with my own examples here because honestly, I stink at making examples.  Today I will draw examples from the movie The Matrix, and discuss how it was used to further the plot.

matrix-wallpaper

  • After Neo’s training fight in the simulator with Morpheous he tastes blood in his mouth and learns that even though what he experienced was not real, his mind believed it was.
  • In the mess hall Mouse talks about how the engineered bioslop they must subsist on reminds him of runny eggs or tasty wheats, even though in real life he’s never eaten either.  He then jokes that the makers of the Matrix must have not really known what chicken tasted like and so they made it taste like everything.  This scene sets up the following critical scene –
  • Cypher is eating a juicy beautiful cyber steak with Agent Smith and discussing how even though he knows it’s not real, he’d rather enjoy it and all the other creature comforts than live in the real world.  It is for this he chooses to betray Morpheous, for his chance to return to the matrix.
  • When Neo visits the Oracle, she is baking.  In the course of their discussion she tells him what he needs to hear and then offers him a hot chocolate chip cookie, telling that by the time he’s done eating it he will feel better about what he thinks he has learned.
  • Agent Smith has Morpheous alone and is trying to crack his mind for the codes to the last human settlement, Zion.  One of his tactics is to tell Morpheous that humans are not really mammals, but instead thinks they are a virus. At one point he acts disgusted with them because of the smell and that it was so bad he could could taste it.  By wiping out the humans that are not loaded into the matrix he can rid himself of all his problems.

Through these examples we see that not only can taste be used in fiction to describe the act of eating, but can also be used to add depth to a character or a setting.  As a sense different than sight or sound it grabs the attention of the reader.  As with the other senses it must be used with care, like salt.  Too much and the reader will tire of it, not enough and the reading might come across as bland.

What unique ways can you use taste in your stories to further or enrich the plot?

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Responses

  1. I totally agree with you using taste and smell are very evocative in writing.

    • It’s something so simple, yet so easy to overlook in the writing process. I have to remember to add stuff like this in when I edit.

      • The book Perfume is a good example of this. Too bad the movie wasn’t a hit.

        • I haven’t read that one yet, I’ll have to look it up.

  2. LOVE!! Loved this movie! Loved the whole concept- and yes…really great descriptive tool!!

    • I think the first is the best of the three, we just rewatched it this week and it made for some great examples.

  3. Good reminders. I often rely too heavily on my characters’ eyes and ears and not enough on their taste buds.

    • I was surprised at how many examples I found in the Matrix that used taste. Didn’t think there would be that many.

  4. I never paid much attention to senses other than sight in my first drafts. When I discovered how much richer one’s writing gets with touch, hearing, and yes, taste, it changed the way I approached each scene. Thanks for the reminder and the excellent example.

    • When done well, a story that engages all of the senses can be truly awesome. I wish they were easier to find!

  5. ::melodramatic sigh:: Thanks, Jodi…just when I think I’m getting close to finishing my final polish, you come up with another fantastic idea that makes me have to go back and polish *again*. ::grabs another posty, jots down notes, sticks to monitor::

    😉

    • Chances are you won’t have to do much to add in an extra detail here and there, don’t sweat it!

  6. Right after the big fight in my book the main character has to have a burger and fries. I rather think I was starving when I wrote that part, but I agree, taste does also help make the book more realistic!

    • That’s awesome. A hamburger sounds really good right now…

      • yup! Unfortunately it is a dinner of corn bread and rice. I wish I could make the burger appear if I focus hard enough on it. I get the feeling that even my vivid imagination wont suffice in this situation though.


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