BETTER WRITING TECHNIQUES: Describing Food

Updated: Dec 16, 2020

WORKSHOP: Describing the experience of food

Here is a guaranteed winner writing session. Easy to set up with huge payoffs. you simply arrive in class armed with a selection of fruit and vegetables. You can use anything, but a range is good. Some lemons or mandarins, celery, onions, carrots, strawberries… You are aiming for a range of smells, textures and tastes from sweet to sour to bitter. And something to use as a blindfold.

Blindfolded, deprived of the sense of sight, students must search for ways to describe their experience through their other senses. They have to find a vocabulary of description for the feel, smell and taste of each item.

The celery stalk was a green guitar neck. Smelling of carpet after rain.

The strawberry was an old man’s nose, cool in the winter’s air.

Thus we move away from descriptive language that merely identifies what things are and replaces it with language which brings to life in the imagination of the reader how things feel and play on our senses.

Hand a piece to the blindfolded student. Give them time, and ask:

TOUCH

Describe what you can feel.

What can you compare it to? It feels like…

What about if you touch it to your lips & tongue?

What does it make you think of? Remember? Imagine?

Take a risk – an “outside the square” response…

SMELL

Try to describe the smells.

What can you compare it to? It smells a bit like…

What does it make you think of? Remember? Imagine?

Take a risk – an “outside the square” response…

TASTE

Describe the tastes.

What can you compare them to?

Can you separate chewing, holding in your mouth, swallowing?

What does it make you think of? Remember? Imagine?

Take a risk – an “outside the square” response…

Ultimately, some of this writing can end up as poetry, because the best poetry tends to be small droplets of heightened language which plucks at the senses in imagination.

During the exercise, and more importantly afterwards, work with writers to move gradually from concrete and direct descriptions into more abstract, more alluding, more symbolic prose. Describing a strawberry as soft is fair enough, but moving away from such a basic concrete observation to suggesting that a strawberry is an old man’s bumpy cold nose is much more interesting and entertaining.

While it is possible to explore sounds here, we don’t recommend it. Save sound (and appearance) for another time, another exercise. Three senses is enough in any descriptive passage. And a lot of sound is satisfied through dialogue. But that is for another workshop.

TIPS

At home, you are free to include cheese, pieces of meat, nuts and so on.


If you take some time over each item, perhaps 6 or 7 is enough. If you are able to put into a student’s hand something they can't easily identify, all the better.





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