Monday, September 1, 2014

A Swell of the Senses with Inspiration from the One Hundred Foot Journey

It’s safe to say that new GREAT movies are becoming harder to find. That’s why when the movie One Hundred Foot Journey featuring Helen Mirren, Om Puri, Manish Dayal, and Charlotte le Bon, came to theaters I was a little skeptical. Could it be as good as I’d heard?

This movie was based on the novel by Richard Morais and is a story about a displaced Indian family who start a restaurant in southern France…just one hundred feet across the road from Madame Mallory’s exquisite fine dining experience. Every restaurant before the Kadam family has gone out of business because of Madame Mallory’s competition, but Madame as never met Papa Kadam, who is just as stubborn as she is. The food war begins and the amazing talent of Papa Kadam’s son, Hassan, begins to stir up the interest of the community…and beyond.

It’s an amazing movie about overcoming culture clashes with mutual dreams, overcoming prejudice with forgiveness, bringing redemption out of bitterness and hope from pain. I highly recommend it to anybody who enjoys a poignant and uplifting story, but something that was done particularly well was the way the viewer was drawn into the story by the senses. Somehow, as only the best directors and actors can do, the visual was used to convey other senses…like taste and smell, in particular. There is one scene where Hassan makes an omelet for Madame Mallory. No words are used. It’s all done nonverbally, and yet, the viewer senses the intensity of the moment and the delight of the tastes.

The movie not only left me with an afterglow of a sweet storyline, but it also left me hungry! Wow - the power of the senses!

It’s one thing to make a movie tickle our senses, but how can we as writers do the same?
As writers we’re pretty consistent at using the visual sense. We describe what is seen- the color, shape, age, size. The attractiveness or not.

Or we describe the feeling something has on us. We cringe, or are drawn toward. We experience an attraction or revulsion, or a memory.

But how do we engage the reader’s other senses? What about taste and smell? Touch or hearing?
In the book Word Painting by Rebecca McClanahan she uses some examples to assist in writing scenes inspired by smell and taste.
Let’s start with smell.

Do you remember old cartoons when the characters smell something delicious? I have a great memory of watching Scooby Doo and Shaggy rise up in the air and follow the scent of something delicious into the next room. That’s the kind of experience we want to give to our readers.
Here are two tips from McClanahan’s book:

Describe a scent in comparison with something else to which the reader can relate. For example, when we use words like ‘floral’ scent or ‘the zing of tropical fruit lingered in the air’. If the scent is something new, compare it. "Her perfume matched her personality, sweet and tangy, like fresh lemonade."
2.       Deliberately take away the other senses and try to describe the scene with only one (not sight). This can be used for any of the other senses, btw.  (I did this when two of my characters found themselves inside a dark closet…great way to describe scent, taste, and touch ;-) McClanahan even uses an example to describe the smell of a freshly washed baby as ‘the scent of innocence.”
 Smell and taste are closely related, so much so we usually use similar descriptions for both. May times as writers we may resort to a simple naming of the food. We might even add a description like ‘warm chocolate chip cookies’. But can we do better? Can we help the reader taste the cookies?
It does require incorporating more senses- usually touch and taste combined, maybe even with smell too.  For example, ‘the warm combination of butter, sugar, and melted chocolate flowed over my tongue, a sweet epiphany from Granny’s kitchen.”
When writing about food, McClanahan says that “Atmosphere - time, place, mood, and surrounding details – is an important element in the enjoyment of any food.”

So to describe taste well, we must set the scene for the senses

Use the environment to key in the senses and add depth to your writing.

Okay, this was a fairly quick overview, but I’d like to hear from you. If you’re a writer, how do you use the sense of taste and smell to enhance your writing?

If you’re a reader, have you read any books lately that sent your senses on a journey with taste or smell?
Let’s share…and then eat some great chocolate in celebration of Labor Day! :-)
Pepper Basham writes romance peppered with grace and humor. She’s a native of the Blue Ridge Mountains, a mom of five, a speech-language pathologist, and a lover of chocolate. She writes a variety of genres, but enjoys sprinkling her native culture of Appalachia in them all.  She currently resides in the lovely mountains of Asheville, NC where she works with kids, searches for unique hats to impress her friends, and plots new ways to annoy her wonderful friends on The Alley. She is represented by the amazing Julie Gwinn.


Dawn Crandall said...

I'm with you, Pepper!! There aren't enough good movies these days!! I'm glad to hear about this one! Thanks!

Kathy Harris said...

I love that Rebecca McClanahan book!

Marilynn Byerly said...

The great science fiction and fantasy writer Poul Anderson suggested that each scene should use at least three of the five senses. It's a good rule of thumb for regular scenes.

As a romance writer, I try to use all five in important emotional scenes like a love scene

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Okay, this post is making me hungry! Excellent as always, Pepper!!!

Laurie Tomlinson said...

I LOVED this movie. The biggest culprit for me is the description of pizza in fiction. Robin Jones Gunn's Christy Miller series always seemed to have me craving it! <3

Hoping my foodie fiction will be an example of this soon :)

Pepper Basham said...

Dawn, it's a great movie..and even my hubs enjoyed it :-)

Pepper Basham said...

I know! The book is amazing. She uses lots of examples and that's one of the hallmarks of a great teacher

Pepper Basham said...

Thank you for the extra tip! I'm a fan of fantasy so I'm going to have to look this guy up, but the tip is great! The more we can use those senses, the more it will draw the readers into the story!

Pepper Basham said...

Amy and Laurie,
I know! I had to make a delicious snack after I wrote it :-)

Oh Laurie,
Romance and good food? Sounds like the perfect story :-)

Saumya said...

Ah, I was just thinking about incorporating senses into my writing. I can't wait to see this movie!!

Mary Vee Writer said...

Came a day late, but did so on purpose. I went to see the movie this afternoon. Wow Definitely a 10 out of 10 for me.

My take away included what you said and also the ending scene. Our rising chef wisely went on to enhance his skills but at one point he realized he'd walked away from his roots. And it was his roots that made him the chef he was. The only way he could grow would be to leave the start studded scene of Paris and go back to the countryside where his family and the girl of his dreams lived.