Writing Tips: Food in Fiction

10 Sep

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Writing Tips: Food in Fiction

55365451.jpgI love food. I love it so much that I often feel like Usagi in the 90’s Sailor Moon. Black cat and all. But this post isn’t about my obsession with my favorite manga. It is about food in fiction and how it can shape characters, settings, and more. (What?) Yes. Believe it or not, food can be that important.

So, grab a snack so we can start chatting! (Nom-nom-nom)

How can food shape characters?

Think about your favorite foods. (Spaghetti? Cherry turnovers?) Consider your favorite type of food. (Chinese? Mexican?) Now, think about why, and go beyond “I just like it.” Are there memories associated with these foods? My mom used to always cook lasagna, and my dad still talks about it over a decade later. I always have a coffee in the morning, but my favorite breakfast is bagels, and for about a year in my childhood, all I ate was bagels. (No exaggeration.) My brother loves Goldfish.

These little quirks can do a lot for a character. Not only can it show one character’s preferences, but it can also bring characters together. In Minutes Before Sunset, Crystal and Jessica have a “girl’s night” with peanut butter and chocolate. I put quotes around girl’s night because Robb is there, too. But food went beyond that in the trilogy when Eric obsesses over his stepmother’s lemon cakes. Even though he struggles to talk to her, her cooking gives him an excuse to approach a mutual moment of discussion. So – if you can’t find another way for two to come together – consider bringing your characters together over food. It happens in society all the time.

If you need another reason to consider food for a character, it can just be funny. For instance, I HATE spicy food. If there’s even a slight pinch of pepper on anything, I lose control of my face. It’s not cute. But it might be a good excuse for comedic relief.

All of this food has been seen in The Timely Death Trilogy

All of this food has been seen in The Timely Death Trilogy

How can food affect a setting?

Oh, in so many ways.

Think about how food changes from one table to another, from one day to another. Heavier foods might insinuate colder weather outside or fancier foods could mean they’re celebrating a holiday or a birthday. Certain food might show cultural differences from one character to another. But you can take even further.

If you’re super detail-oriented, it might be a good idea to Google how a character refers to a soft drink based on the setting. Is it soda, pop, or Coke? Names can shift over various areas and time. It might be something to consider, but that’s not all! (What? There’s more?) Yes. There always is.

If you’re writing science-fiction or fantasy, throw in a new food or consider renaming a food we eat today. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Just have fun with it! You could even create traditions around food. (Like how the U.S. celebrates Thanksgiving with a turkey.)

Food in fiction is fun, but it is also important.

Don’t be afraid to explore possibilities (or the kitchen) for your characters. After all, we want characters to be as realistic as possible, and real people need to eat if they are to maintain healthy and energetic lives. Who can be a superhero with an empty stomach? Speaking of which, I am starving now that I’ve written this. I’m off to eat my midnight snack, but I look forward to reading your thoughts about food in fiction. Comment below!

~SAT

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17 Responses to “Writing Tips: Food in Fiction”

  1. MishaBurnett September 10, 2014 at 5:21 am #

    Food is very important in my books, because so many of my characters have strange dietary requirements. My narrator, James burns through calories very quickly in his Catskinner personality and has to make sure that he always has food available. The Blue Metal Boys add heavy element salts to their diet. Ambimorphs’ symbiotes require large amounts of sugar. Necroidim don’t eat at all. Meals that involve different semi-human types require a certain finesse, and that has an effect on the group dynamics.

    • Shannon A Thompson September 10, 2014 at 3:58 pm #

      Very interesting! Thanks for sharing your experiences and tips. :]
      ~SAT

  2. enkousama September 10, 2014 at 5:46 am #

    Lol I had a fight scene involving red velvet cupcakes.

    And I love spicy food. I put peppers in everything. And paprika too given the chance

    • Shannon A Thompson September 10, 2014 at 3:59 pm #

      That. Is. Epic.
      ~SAT

      • enkousama September 10, 2014 at 6:26 pm #

        You read the damn thing Shannon. Although it was months ago, I admit.

        Or we’re you referring to me loving spicy food as epic?

      • Shannon A Thompson September 10, 2014 at 6:39 pm #

        Spicy food! My good friend is that way. I just can’t handle it. Lol but both are epic, of course.
        ~SAT

      • enkousama September 11, 2014 at 6:13 am #

        Seriously though, what’s your favorite thing to eat? (Coffee doesn’t count)

  3. Charles Yallowitz September 10, 2014 at 5:54 am #

    I remember doing a week of posts on this topic back in June and it was a lot of fun. It showed how authors overlook food and how useful it can be. Even readers don’t realize how much it tells. You can get a feel for a character’s personality by their eating habits and I love making unique dishes to denote a foreign culture. I’ve occasionally picked regional specialties like a town that is known for honey-based candy and a place that eats a lot of giant scorpion meat. There is that other use of food/eating that it can give characters something else to do when talking. After all, we tend to discuss our lives over some type of food or drink, so why should fictional characters be any different?

    This topic always makes me remember what an old coworker once pointed out about the Oceans 11 movie. Brad Pitt seems to be constantly eating.

    • Shannon A Thompson September 10, 2014 at 4:01 pm #

      So true! I feel like many writers do overlook food, writing it off as an every day thing. It might be, yes, but – like you said – it can also be so useful. Thank you for reading and commenting! Great additions.
      ~SAT

  4. lindabloodworth September 10, 2014 at 9:01 pm #

    I LOVE FOOD. I also love Usagi. Totally on point post. 😉

  5. debyfredericks September 10, 2014 at 9:05 pm #

    Food is invaluable for world building! First, because everyone gets hungry and everyone eats. We all have so many sensory impressions around food, and we have emotional associations, as you noted. Beyond that, people also know a lot about foods and what kind of climate and labor is involved in growing them. So if your characters are eating pineapple fresh from the field, immediately your reader knows the climate must be tropical: hot, rainy, humid, etc. So foods can really help you bring your setting to life in a fast but visceral way.

    • Shannon A Thompson September 10, 2014 at 9:54 pm #

      Great points! Thank you for adding so many fantastic details.
      ~SAT

  6. melaniadoom September 19, 2014 at 11:33 pm #

    Ahahahaha I love this!!! You know you’ve met a real Sailor Moon fan when they know to call Serena (eng dubbed) Usagi!!
    FOOD AND WRITING…what is there not to love. I really enjoyed this post. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Shannon A Thompson September 19, 2014 at 11:57 pm #

      I am so glad you enjoyed the post! I know! Everyone calls her Serena, and although Serena is one of my favorite names, it just doesn’t make a lot of sense since it doesn’t explain why she has so many bunnies around her. I just saw a joke the other day from a fan who took a screenshot of a translated piece. Her mother was shouting after her, and the version said “Rabbit!” and many had commented on the mistake (generally because they didn’t get it) but I was laughing so hard.
      ~SAT

      • melaniadoom September 20, 2014 at 12:45 am #

        I know!! I posted a picture on my fb of a couple of VHS’s I own of Sailor Moon R & S (Hearts on Ice & The Doom Tree Series) and I captioned it “I love Usagi” and people were like who’s that lol!!!

        But I thought it was clever how you included her in your post. One of the reasons why I love Usagi so much growing up was due to her love of food. I feel it made her a very relatable character 🙂 Good stuff!!

        – ms.doom

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. September Ketchup | Shannon A Thompson - September 30, 2014

    […] Writing Tips: Food in Fiction: A part of me loved the excuse to include Sailor Moon in one of my posts. […]

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