The other day, in writing a scene in the second Jolie Marston mystery, I had Jolie's bon vivant buddy Martin take a sip of Pinot Gris and describe it with a wink:
He inhaled for several seconds before raising his head. "Gooseberries, but not the fully mature ones. A hint of daffodils, the white ones with the coral centers, not the yellow ones.” He swirled the pale liquid again and took a sip, rolling the wine around every part of his mouth. “Granite from the eastern slope of the Colorado Rockies. Tangelo rind. And um, the tiniest suggestion of cigar ash."
Martin knows his wines and knows how to spoof knowing his wines, because he knows how easy it is to sound pretentious describing them. Pretentious and inaccurate.
Labels on wines often refer to the presence of berries on the nose or palate. Two wines assigned the same berry descriptors, however, can taste quite different. A wine might hint at chocolate, plum, or peach, but then, what is peach? Try describing the taste of a peach. It's...peach. It might be similar to nectarine, but only similar.
Analogies only go so far. As Kant said back in the 18th century, a thing is ding an sich, the thing-in-itself. Or to use our modern parlance, "It is what it is."
Here's a tough one: Describe a color. What exactly is green? Referring to something that is that color (grass) doesn't count. OK then, green is what happens when you mix blue and yellow, but that doesn't tell us much about what the color looks like, does it? Never mind its infinite shades.
What about music? A bass guitar riff might suggest, say, the low rumble of a Harley in idle, but what exactly is the sound? A flute might remind us of a trilling bird, but neither can replicate the other.
We writers prod ourselves to be precise. Instead of writing that a character has "pretty hair," write what makes it pretty. Is it the color of burnished copper? Does it cascade to her tailbone? Especially in poetry, precision is all. Many of us consider writing a poem to be...here I go again...like distilling. Get rid of any word that doesn't matter, and make sure the ones that stay contribute as much as they can.
As I write this, I am sipping green tea I brewed with fresh ginger slices. Ahh. It tastes...yes, exactly.