Appeal to sense of taste in descriptions

Of the five senses, taste is the rarest in stories. The reason is that we’re not eating, drinking, smoking or falling face-first into the dirt as frequently as we are seeing, hearing and smelling the world around us.

Like the senses of sound and smell, taste ought to be reserved for moments when it can offer meaningful descriptions of an object, to raise dramatic tension or to offer insights into a character. For example, describing how an extrasolar colonist who has learned bad news suddenly finds bitter the taste of his otherwise sweet julah drink shows how the information has affected him emotionally. Unfortunately, writers too often simply describe the food a character is eating either for the gross-out factor (such as the Klingon’s gagh in “Star Trek”) or simply to find a way to get the sense of taste into their story.

Where taste and smell are concerned, sometimes you can get your descriptions to appeal to both senses. They are, after all, closely related: Humans who have temporarily lost their sense of smell due to a cold often can’t taste either. J. Chris Rock accomplishes this in his short story “Lucy” (which appears in the August 2008 Asimov’s Science Fiction): “’Seriously though,’ Elgin says, his mouth full of Fritos. I can smell them, that gross wet corn mush smell.”


My name is Rob Bignell. I’m an affordable, professional editor who runs Inventing Reality Editing Service, which meets the manuscript needs of writers both new and published. I also offer a variety of self-publishing services. During the past decade, I’ve helped more than 300 novelists and nonfiction authors obtain their publishing dreams at reasonable prices. I’m also the author of the 7 Minutes a Day… writing guidebooks, four nonfiction hiking guidebook series, and the literary novel Windmill. Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.