The Importance of Taste in Fiction

Taste is a sense rarely written about in fiction. There are several reasons for this, chiefly the fact that no one wants to read a scene in which characters are eating. We don’t pick up a book to read about something that commonplace, after all. We want a rush. We want an adventure. We want a romance. Whatever it is that we want, sharing a rather dull meal isn’t part of it.

Taste can be a very powerful tool, despite these sort of purple uses for it. It doesn’t have to be overly long. In fact, it’s a lot more powerful if you keep it concise. And if you don’t describe a new smell every third paragraph. Try every scene or so. Use sparingly. Please. Taste doesn’t have to be a boring breakfast. It can be the way you taste chlorine when you’re at the pool. Or the smell of those fucking gloves they wear at hospitals. You know the way that smell gets into your mouth. You have a hard time getting rid of it. Taste can show you the character is at the beach when they’re so close they can taste the salt when they breathe. Or the metallic taste of blood in their mouth during or after a fight. The way their love interest tastes salty when they kiss their skin.

Taste can set a scene quite effectively. It brings back memories. Chocolate chip cookies with your grandma. The sharp taste of alcohol the first time you ever tried it. You know the time. You shouldn’t have done it, but you were so damned curious. It can make you remember the way that your first kiss tasted. For better or for worse. It makes you think of salty tears running down your face and into your mouth the first time you had your heart broken. You remember that time too, don’t you? This is a way of establishing a rapport between your characters and your audience. And that’s the most important thing of all.

When taste is actually described it’s nearly always in too much detail. Things get sort of florid very quickly. I don’t need to know the taste profile of the wine your character has at her wedding. Or more realistically, drinks out of a box while she watches Netflix. Nobody really needs that, honestly. And we sure to shit don’t want it. But people give it to us anyway. And that’s where a lot of writers lose me. And other readers for that matter. So it’s important to be careful. But don’t neglect taste entirely if you want to gain your readers’ investment in the story that you’ve written.

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