Recently I was asked to describe the taste of a cheesecake to someone, who due to an allergy had never tasted cheesecake.
As I stumbled on finding any adequate analogies for what was a most delicious peanut and chocolate cheese cake, a comment was made.
“You are the writer, come on, do better than that!”
How did I feel? Small, at a loss, wanting and totally inadequate.
When you consider it for a while, there are many things that virtually deny description, things that have to be compared against some equivalent sibling for reference. As usual, when it was too late my brain supplied categories and comparisons for the cheesecake, similar textures, similar tastes, and similar responses in the mouth.
The resultant Frankenstein analogy, although inelegant, would have conveyed most of the experience from eating that particular dessert.
Cobalt blue to a blind man
The taste of pineapple
The scent of a lily
Some are easier than others, some are surprising. Take ‘pain’, automatically we think in terms of other pain of different magnitudes but are all the pains that we experience the same?
Is the pain from heat the same as the pain from a loud noise, the same as the pain from a bright light? Are you sure?
As we wander through our everyday life, as writers we need to consider what we see and touch. We should ask ourselves, ‘how would I describe that?’ breakdown our experiences into the essence of what they are. By weaving into our fiction these essences we can absorb our reader into the experience we have crafted.
Sometimes the ability to describe a sensation without mundane comparisons will keep the reader flowing with the prose and not be jarred out to his/her normal world, especially in science fiction.
“The taste of Apples mixed slightly with Limes, filled her mouth.”
Thinks; ‘fruit bowl, must by some bananas at Cheap-o-Mart’, or
“The fruit first produced a sharpness which nipped at the tip and edges of her tongue, making them wish to curl, and at the back of her tongue a smoothing sweetness washed around before passing serenely down her throat.”
Thinks; ‘Oh, is it poisonous?’ or some other concern for your protagonist.
By being able to describe everyday experiences well by means other than analogy it allows us to keep the mundane and the now, out of our fantasy and period pieces.
Analogy when used well, as you probably know, is wonderful for expanding the reader’s perception of what the writer means to convey.
It can also work against you, so be careful.