Natalie Kleinman brings this month’s chapter to an end with ‘Taste’ in the hope that, with her predecessors, we have been able to illustrate the importance of sensory perception in our writing.
Anyone who remembers Kenny Everett will be familiar with the expression ‘All in the best possible taste,’ but as far as I am aware this never referred to his palate. As writers we need to evoke the senses. How can we achieve this without, in the case of taste, describing the delicacy (or otherwise) in question? Henry Fielding’s famous eating scene between Tom Jones and Mrs Waters transferred so brilliantly to the screen that when Tom rips a claw off the langouste and sucks it we are left in no doubt as to what is in his mind.
We don’t need to say someone is eating a succulent rib of beef. As he placed the fork in his mouth, the juice ran from the corner and down his chin. There was blood where he dabbed it with his napkin would convey everything the writer wished.
Similarly, the strength of the mustard brought tears to his eyes. Perhaps I’ve never liked ginger and spring onion would promote exactly the right taste in the reader’s mouth when referring to a chicken dish Chinese style. Far better than saying that chicken with ginger and spring onion was on the menu. The ones covered in white chocolate are my favourites, Victoria said when offered a dish of truffles. It isn’t difficult to do but it’s very easy to do badly.
I don’t know any writer who doesn’t have the phrase ‘Show Don’t Tell!’ ever present in their head, if not entirely in the conscious mind then certainly nagging somewhere in the background. It becomes a mantra. It applies to all aspects of writing. Are we allowed to say He was wearing a flower in his button-hole? Of course not. She leaned forward to sniff the rose in his lapel is far more acceptable. But here I am encroaching on one of my fellow bloggers. You will know by now that we have all been assigned one of the senses – isn’t it lucky there are five of us – and I am the last and feel that, possibly, I have picked the short straw. I am writing this at the end of April before any of the posts have been uploaded so I have no idea what walls have been encountered and scaled. For all I know my fellows may be having as much difficulty as I am – and I admit that I am having difficulty. I don’t have a problem writing in context but this exercise is stretching me. All I can say really is that I try to awaken my reader’s taste buds by giving them something they can relate to without actually telling them. To resort to one of my favourite occupations I might say The taste of berries and pepper were fighting for supremacy as Emily lowered the glass. Far more evocative than She was drinking a glass of red wine.
I’d love to hear what problems you have when trying to satisfy your readers. I’m sure it’s always in the best possible taste.