Food, writing... and writing about food
Writing about food is an art in itself.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
I’m busy getting ready to have our family over--and cooking dinner. It got me thinking about food and how important it is a center point for social interaction.
In my work-in-progress, I realized early on my characters where often uniting to talk around food--maybe my Italian roots showing, or maybe realism.
So today, I wanted to challenge you to consider food and how to write about it in an engaging way.
Play to the senses: While the visual helps, especially by involving light and color, try to engage the other senses. Not just taste which is the obvious one, but touch, smell, and hearing. Tell me about texture and mouthfeel, give me the desire to eat, or the feeling of being overstuffed. The sounds we make when we enjoy something. Or that our stomach's produce when we're hungry. I read a book about the Irish Famine a long time ago. In it, there was a scene where a boy feeds his sister rotten fish--the only thing he could find. She can't tolerate it and vomits, then dies in his arms. I couldn't get close to fish for months. The smell, the very idea of it, made me ill.
Give meaning to food: Food is wondrously evocative. It is an emotional tag for memories. As writers, we can leverage that by building a story around it. We can go as deep as we want. Who cooked it. The places where the ingredients came from. The sacredness of a family recipe passed on through generations. There are people growing sourdough bread starters from a hundred years ago. There's a story hidden in that for sure. Think of a secret ingredient. Or one that used to exist and is no longer available. We have cultural connotations about certain foods too, like champagne as a celebratory drink, so you can play with that. Food can be good, comforting, or it can be poisonous and deadly. An apple for a teacher or an apple in the hands of snow white's queen. The vision of a diabetic eating a donut before a crisis is an impactful visual.
When writing about food, forget the visual and engage the other senses.
Build a story around a food/drink: When I was a child my father used to take me to have our car washed every Saturday. It was a manual process, so while people did their job, we sat at a small cafe table and drank tonic water. I can never have Schweppes without feeling loved and special. Characters can have stories like that too.
Create your own food or drink: Especially for fantasy writers, this is a fun way to enhance your world building. But all writers can experiment with inventing brands that do not exist or mentioning obscure foods. Strange food combinations or foods from a particular area with new names can serve to anchor us geographically and emotionally.
Use food to develop character: Food can subtly highlight characteristics, social class among others. It can tell us about personality. And the values a person holds. References to the kinds of foods a character prefers or even the brands they favor can tell us a lot about them and be a shortcut in character building. A Bud Light drinker is not the same as a Corona or a Micro-brew fan.
Create a story that connects the tastes and smells to an emotion in the reader's mind.
The key as you can tell is emotion. Use food as a way to make the reader feel and they will remember.
FOOD AS A CHARACTER
Sometimes, food can be important enough to drive plot. I love books that include recipes and where food is a character. A favorite? Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel. I definitely recommend it.
Writing prompts about food are usually boring. Subvert what's expected by using food in a new way.
I've been experimenting with writing prompts lately and found them a lot of fun. They are a great exercise to get your writing muscles toned. Write at least 200 words but as much as you want. Here is one from a recent scene I did:
“We sat around a table buckling under the weight of our favorite foods. Enjoy,” said the fairy Queen.
Let me know how it goes.
Enjoy your THANKSGIVING
Finally, I wanted to give thanks. I’m thankful for a great year and the wonderful people in my life including all my writing friends. Have fun with your families and enjoy all the lovely food.
Dare always. Keep writing. Alicia