You can’t taste a scene. It’s just not possible. When your character walks into a room, she can see, hear, smell, even feel the atmosphere, but she can’t taste it unless she’s licking the floor. Ew. That doesn’t mean, however, that the only time you can incorporate taste is during a dinner scene. Here are a few tips on how to bring taste into a taste-less setting.
1. Through smell. Have you ever walked in to a freshly cleaned, nearly sterilized, room? They often smell like pine or lemon, but take another deep breath. Chemicals. Chemical so strong that you can taste them. Whenever I walk into a building with a pool, I can taste the chlorine as soon as I smell it – I remember the flavor from the gallons I inadvertently swallowed as a kid. Some scents, natural or otherwise, are so strong you can actually taste them. Look for ways to include some of these moments in your novel.
2. By memory. I can still taste the steak I ate at the Trillium Restaurant over a decade ago – it was the most succulent, tender, perfectly-cooked beef I’d ever enjoyed. The restaurant has been replaced, but every time I drive by that building, my mouth waters. Whenever I see the word ‘trillium’, that juicy beef melts in my mouth. Characters can also enjoy equally tasty memories (plus, it gives you an opportunity to bring in some back story without creating an info dump).
5. As a prop or habit. In the recent Ocean’s Eleven movie (and its sequels), Rusty Ryan is always eating – pretzels, nachos, a drink at the bar. In Karen Witemeyer’s A Tailor-Made Bride, J.T. Tucker chews on toothpicks until they snap. I know a lady who chews hard candy – it’s impossible for her to lick a sucker, she breaks it in half and finishes it in seconds. These props and habits give insight to your characters while also expanding the range of their experiences by including their sense of taste. Not everyone needs an oral fixation, but it’s a good way to bring in this sense.
4. Figuratively. Could she taste the victory? Did the lie curdle on his tongue? Pull this sense into your writing in a figurative way, showing what’s going on with your characters metaphorically without telling the reader what’s happening.
You probably won’t use taste as frequently as you’ll use sight or sound in your novel, but that doesn’t mean it should be ignored. A complete person relies on all of his senses; a complete character must do the same. Remember, you don’t have to create a lunch-at-the-diner scene to add some flavor to your novel.