This week: Taste.Edited by: Robert Waltz
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A lie, as you probably know, has a taste all its own. Blocky and bitter and never quite right, like when you pop a piece of fancy chocolate into your mouth expecting toffee filling and you get lemon zest instead.
― Jodi Picoul
The world's worst flavor combination was mango and menthol.
― Ryu Murakami
The more obscure our tastes, the greater the proof of our genius.
― Jennifer Donnelly
What does it taste like?
This seems simple: whatever "it" is, it tastes like it tastes. And for writers of non-fantasy, it probably is simpler. it's likely that many readers have not tasted snake, for example, but one can get away with describing its taste as being, perhaps, a bit like chicken (at least that's what I hear; I haven't had the opportunity, myself). Regardless of the item in question, be it food, drink, or poison, it's usually easy enough to find a common flavor to which to compare the thing's taste. Failing that, one can fall back on the old standards: sweet, bitter, sour, etc.
But those who write fantasy set in other worlds might find this a greater challenge.
I think it's important, for writing to achieve breadth and depth, to at least occasionally describe things using other senses beyond the usual vision and hearing. But if your world, to extend the example above, contains snakes but not chickens, how would one describe the taste of serpent? Or would a character, upon encountering roasted poultry for the first time, describe it as "like snake?"
Continuing to say "tastes like chicken" might convey something to the reader, but doing so can take them out of the world you've created, if only momentarily. There are other descriptions available, though: to say that it is savory, meaty, light on the tongue, or other words depending upon the item in question.
Other senses can have the same problems, of course: if you're on another world and a character runs across some ancient temple or etchings in stone, if you write, "it resembled something Egyptian," that immediately conveys the idea that Ancient Egypt was something the character was familiar with. Perhaps you want to do that, as a hint of some sort, but usually you'd want to compare it to something in-universe, like "it looked similar to the (whatever) of Ardassos," where "Ardassos" is something that exists in that universe and may or may not be further expanded upon in other places in the narrative.
But the taste issue is somewhat different. If you imagine your story made into a movie, for instance, a viewer could draw their own conclusions when seeing an object on screen, such as "well, that resembles an Egyptian thing I've seen." But the only senses you can directly access in a movie audience are vision and hearing.
Writing has no such restriction.
So with taste (and smell and maybe touch), it's important to consider not only the world you're writing in, but also what an audience is familiar with. Sure, you can, as I noted above, resort to "sweet" or "bitter" or whatever, but those get old fast; how does the taste make the character feel; what can he or she compare it to in their own experience? Then find a way to express this in a way someone in your audience might be expected to comprehend.
Example: "The stew tasted of the sea and sharp spices, biting Aramak's tongue and making his lips curl." Most people would at least be familiar with the saltiness of the sea, if only through other descriptions, and it's a pretty sure bet your reader has lips and has tasted both salt and hot spice. And this sentence is more descriptive than "Aramak regretted taking a mouthful of the salty, spicy stew."
This, of course, can get even more complicated if your character is nonhumanoid. Or if your world's oceans aren't salty, for whatever reason.
However you choose to describe these things, though, consider doing so; as I said, it can add texture to any written story.
A taste of some writing from around WDC:
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Last time, in "The Moon" , I talked about... well, the Moon.
WakeUpAndLive~chill at will : Like Earth, the Moon has gravity. But the Moon’s gravity is weaker, only one-sixth of the Earth’s gravity, in fact. That means you’d weigh much less if you were to stand on the Moon! (National Geographic)
That probably means I will be at my perfect weight while at the Moon. Moon dieting it is! I want to be on the Blue Origin Spacecraft (and the Blue Moon robotic carrier and lander) to visit the moon again in 2024.
And this is why it's important to distinguish between weight and mass.
So that's it for me for November -- see you next month! Until then,
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