Archive for January 11th, 2012

It Tastes Like Blue

That’s how I described a certain liquor I’m not too fond of at a Greedy Santa event I MCed this year.  It’s an assessment I stand by, even as some participants insisted that blue is not a flavor, and if it was what does it taste like?  My answer: Just look at Gatorade flavors.  The yellow is lemon-lime.  The red is fruit punch.  The purple is grape.  The blue?  Grab a bottle and you’ll see the flavor is “cool blue.”  Oh, some blue things are raspberry flavored, even orange flavored for my fellow cocktail enthusiasts, but so often the flavor is just…


This is a companion piece to my article over on Unleaded today.  There I talk about smells, here I’m talking about flavors.

Taste is a less pervasive sense in writing.  While characters have noses and are frequently experiencing smells, they don’t necessarily run around tasting everything.  Unless, of course, you’re working on the novelization of Skyrim.  But the times that characters do eat, we want to know what they’re eating, we want to know how it tastes, we want to know if they’re enjoying it.  We as readers, in short, want food porn.

Describing food is an artform.  There’s a reason that restaurant critics are highly regarded for their craft and paid beyond just their expense reports.  Not only have they refined their palates to distinguish excellent food from the merely very good, the best ones also server as a master class in describing food, bringing the experience down to the reader so they know how the meal tasted, without stumbling over redundancies or repetition.  Few things can really gin us up like a well crafted description of excellent food.  The fact that we even call it “food porn” speaks to the sort of visceral reaction well chosen taste description elicits.

It’s one reason I do my Eat This series of posts on the blog.  While typically off topic to the direct subject of writing, they are, each and every one, exercises in both research and description.  And ones that I will readily admit fall short of their targets at times.  There’s a reason why I’m a currently unpublished genre writer and not Tom Sietsema.  There’s also a reason why Sietsema would be one of my first picks if I started interviewing writers here in the blog.  Maybe one day.  But I see each and every Eat This post as an opportunity to practice food description for that day I decide to put down a big banquet scene in a book.

Oh crap.  I’ve got one of those coming up in like seven chapters.

Over on Unleaded I suggested, as an exercise, smelling something.  Or just going through your day a little more aware of the smells around you.  Actually think about them, and try describing them as though talking to someone with anosmia, the inability to smell.  Know what I’m going to suggest here?  Oh, just take a guess.  Yup, eat something, and then describe it.  Here, I’ll even start:

[Bloggers note: I was about to post a picture of my lunch, but then realized that would be cheating.]  Lunch today was from the DC Lobster Truck, which may by the mostly highly regarded of the food trucks that patrols Washington and the suburbs.  And for damn good reason.  The lobster roll features big chunks of meat, perfectly cooked to be tender with only a hint of the chewiness lobster is known for.  It’s also hunks of meat from every part of the lobster, so the stringy bits of backmeat meld with unbroken claws that melt away.  The meat is mounded into the bun, rather than being artificially stuck together with mayo.  Let’s face it, mayo on a lobster roll is only necessary when a restaurant is looking to cover up the quality of their lobster, or that they’re making the rolls out of the bits of lobster they can’t serve in any other way.  The buns are liberally buttered before toasting, lending them a crispness that works perfectly with the softness of the meat, and mimicking the melted butter typically served with lobster.

There’s mine, just a little flavor description practice.  Feel free to volunteer your own.  Nothing that needs to fit into a larger narrative, nothing even longer than a paragraph, but with as much description as you can muster without giving in to cliché, repetition, or redundancy.  And don’t be afraid to use words not normally associated with flavors, just so long as they’re logical and evocative.  Sound good?  Then…go!

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