Tastes Right

I do all sorts of things as a writer and critiquer on the basis of how they taste to me, whether the words feel right in my mouth as I’m mentally speaking them—I always internally voice as I’m writing, perhaps because I came to writing from theater.

The best example of this comes from a critique I did for fellow Wyrdsmith Sean Michael Murphy. There was a sentence where I wanted one word changed—I don’t remember which one now, but that doesn’t really matter. It was one of a large number of suggestions. Sean was pretty happy with most of the suggestions, ignored some, and wanted to understand what I was thinking with others. This was one of those last and the conversation went something like this:

Sean: Why did you suggest this change? I think you’re right, but I’m not sure why.
Kelly: It just tasted better.
Sean: But why did it taste better?
Kelly: It just did.
Sean:…(waiting patiently)
Kelly: (unable to let the silence stay silent, begins mentally unpacking the process) Let me think about it…

It turned out that when pressed I had six separate reasons for wanting this one word changed. For me, the change reinforced something in the sentence, reinforced something in the paragraph, reinforced one of the story’s themes, amped up a plot point, showed a contrast between character voice pre and post traumatic event, and removed a slightly clumsy related word repetition.

I’ve found that’s usually the case when my brain says something tastes better rather than opting for a specific reason—my sub-conscious has a bunch of reasons to change something and is too lazy to articulate them all without being pressed. My new structural sense is definitely atasting thing because it’s hugely complex. I trust it in part because I know that the taste of something is very important for my process, but I still want to unpack it because I enjoy unpacking.

(Originally published on the Wyrdsmiths blog March 19 2007, and original comments may be found there. Reposted and reedited as part of the reblogging project)