When in Doubt — Say Green Apples!

Language can be as flat and dry as a salt-free cracker. It can also be as luscious and nuanced as a fine wine. Sometimes the cracker is the right choice, but there’s also wine time.


A few years ago I took a wine tasting class. The instructor was a very funny woman with a deep understanding of wine. She didn’t put up with shyness and made us all speak up.

“What do you smell? What does the taste remind you of?”

She’d push us to find the words to describe our initial responses to each wine. Flowers, the forest floor, quartz on the beach, tobacco… It didn’t really matter what words you used to describe the aroma, as long as you found words and said them out loud to the class. She explained that one person’s raspberry might be another’s cherry coke. Our individual

perceptions drive our language choices.

What does this have to do with writing?

Everything. In dialog, a character’s word choices reveal a great deal. Where does he come from? What does she do for a living? Does he enjoy cooking? Does she wear perfume? The word choices of a man from New England who loves to cook will be different than a woman who plans weddings in Atlanta and wears a rose-based perfume every day.

The teacher had another, very useful, piece of advice for when you’re at a loss for words. She said, “When tasting a white wine — just say it tastes like green apples.” White wines always taste like green apples — to someone. I was thinking about that the other day when I was putting words in the mouth of a character. I needed to distinguish his style of speaking from another character, so a dug a little deeper into this minor character and found the vocabulary that matched his background and life.

How do you like them apples?





  1. I like that analogy.

    I remember a while back, there were a few that complained about the words some were using to describe the flavors people were finding in craft beers.

    We have gone so long with bland beers that all tasted the same, we are easily blown away by beer with flavor.

    • Candy Korman

      Sometimes I think readers have become too comfortable with bland dialog, too. Too much use of brand names to fast track an understanding, too little original sounding people… And yet, when you simply listen to people talk there is so much variation, so many “chocolate notes in the beer” people and so many real life characters who have singular vocabularies.

      It’s much more fun to read about interesting people. And to meet them, too!

    • Candy Korman

      Fabulous! Running to check your post.
      Dialog is so revealing and I think all too many writers rely on clothes or hairstyles to give a picture of the character. Word really do a great job and they can operate covertly.

  2. Sometimes we can go a little too far in trying to appeal to the widest possible audience, the characters become a little bland.Every meal needs a base flavour but with complimentary flavours too or no-one wants to eat it.

    • Candy Korman

      And the very same thing can be said for words in dialog!

      Often, I’ve found myself mystified when ALL the characters sound the same. So odd, so sad, so dull…

  3. Dialogue has suffered, along with everything else, in the cult of the bestseller. God forbid you should make readers work a little. Readers want their fiction like their McDonalds – fast, cheap and easy to swallow.

    • Candy Korman

      Unfortunately, you may be correct about a great number of best selling novels — not to mention movies that are ALL ACTION and almost no dialog.