Monday, November 29, 2010


I am pretty sure after Thanksgiving, no one wants to talk about food. But since I am sitting here thinking about food, I thought I would make a post about the wonders of food. 

If you're anything like me, you love food. I enjoy food in most forms, and there's very little that I don't like. Even food I don't care for I could eat if I had to. And I am not talking about "I am starving and I don't want to turn into a soccer team stuck in the Andes" if I had to. I mean, if it was polite, or that's what was prepared. I actually lived with some roommates who had radically different ideas on what constituted as food than I did, and I survived (for example, hotdogs cut up into macaroni and cheese is not something I would voluntarily eat, but if that's what was made for dinner, I choked it down).

If you think about it, people have very different ideas about what sort of food they should be eating. Lucky for my writing, I've lived with several different types of eaters, from the "I will eat anything that doesn't run away fast enough" to "I will only eat these five meals, and that's it." While it can be annoying to deal with these people in real life, in fiction this is a golden opportunity. You can tell us so much about the setting, the character, and connect the reader to the character with the simple mention of food.

You don't have to make the entire book about the character's quest for chocolate (or a Twinkie, like in Zombieland) but food is a really great way to sneak some worldbuilding in. Especially for fantasy and science fiction writers, the sort of food the character eats tells us about the setting without you having the character make awkward conversation like, "Boy, I sure am glad that we live in a subtropical climate!" 

Instead, you mention the character eating mangoes, coconuts, kiwi, and using banana leaves for a plate.  Sure, those fruits can be imported, but if you're writing a low-tec setting it's obvious between the food and the mention of balmy weather the character is living somewhere tropical. Even if they aren't imported, if you make that type of cuisine part of the character's normal diet, it will be assumed that's what's readily available.

It's not that readers have the exact origin of every food memorized, but people have certain connotations with food. Like smell, taste is directly connected to your limbic system. Your limbic system is why you associate taste and smell with certain memories and people. If Grandma spent her days making cookies in the kitchen, then you normally associate the scent of baking with happier, childhood times. 

Everyone's memories of food and smell are different, so you're not guaranteed to make the reader feel at home just because you mention the kitchen smelled like warm cookies, or the character took a bite out of a warm, gooey chocolate chip cookie. Maybe one of the reader's Grandma was a terror, so now they break out into cold sweats every time they smell chocolate chip cookies. 

But by paying attention to the type of food your character is eating, you can strike a very visceral connection between your main character and the reader. You shouldn't flood your pages with detailed instruction on how to make pie, or mention every morsel that passes through the lips of your character, but a reference here and there of what they are eating can be a very subtle, yet effective way to bring the reader into the character's head.

One piece of pie at a time.   


  1. I hate hot dogs and macaroni a couple weeks ago!

    ...did we live together and I don't remember it?

  2. Not that I am aware of! Did you have it at least twice a week? Because I did. *shudders*