Between Thanksgiving turkey and Christmas cookies, I just about spend all month thinking about and eating food. I don’t know about you, but devouring a good book leaves me feeling hungry. This is especially true if the author incorporates devilishly mouthwatering food descriptions into their prose.
Food is my love language. It’s one of my strongest motivators, and when it’s incorporated into a story, I’m left seriously salivating.
Thusly in the spirit of this hungry holiday season, I’m discussing tips and considerations to keep in mind when writing about food within fiction.
Use all five senses
We are always told “show, don’t tell” as one of the golden rules of fiction writing. The best way to show is by using all the readers’ senses to pull them into that scene with a vivid experience.
It tends to be rather easy to cover sight with description. Touch, smell, and sound all come up organically enough, but it’s not always often when your character tastes something.
Use this rarity for what it is and run with it. Describe the taste experience with rich descriptive details. Food can be sinful, rotten, bland, or gourmet. Be bold when describing the complexities of flavors, aromas, and textures. There’s a lot to work with and you can paint a pretty taste-tingling food portrait for your readers.
Show the reaction
Showing the sensory experience of the food is less impactful without knowing the reaction to eating it. The set-up of the scene can influence how a character would react to the food. If it is a tense scene, the person eating might react to not even tasting the food. If the character was starving, a simple dish might taste akin to a luxurious feast. Someone suffering a breakup will certainly have several emotions whilst digging into a pint of ice cream.
Because a lot can be inferred by how someone eats, showing the reaction to the food helps the reader understand and relate to the emotional state of the character.
Food can indicate socioeconomic class
Food is closely tied with culture, and a huge indicator of a division of cultures can include the foods that classes eat. The Hunger Games comes to mind with this, as the most extreme division is those that have food in abundance and those who have it in scarcity.
The internal reactions of someone eating when food is scarce will vary drastically with someone who eats multiple courses on a regular feeding schedule.
The types of food can vary between classes, as some may only have access to certain foods. The best way to establish these dichotomies is to determine what is abundant in your novel and what is scarce. If you are writing a WWII-era historical piece, basics like sugar and butter were heavily rationed, so it would be a luxury to have a real cake for a birthday.
There might be several factors that impact scarcity and abundance and they will all impact food.
Setting impacts food culture
The setting and world-building can have a huge impact on many aspects of the story and culturally will often impact the food that is eaten. Food will be a product of the agriculture available. The food can also show how advanced and developed the setting is.
Is your setting coastal, where fishing is prosperous and seafood is the norm? Or is your novel set amongst expansive plains, where livestock or big game is most readily consumed?
The setting can indicate what is a delicacy and what is something served in large quantities.
Adds to character development
Everyone knows Pooh Bear loves honey and Hobits eat second breakfast. Sharing a character’s favorite food or eating habits might feel like small potatoes in the larger scope of designing a character, but taste preferences and relationships to food round out a character and provide ways for a reader to connect.
Food can help give identifiers to specific characters or groups of people. It humanizes the character and can the relationship with food can be informative to the character’s personality. Food allergies can even serve as specific risks or dangers to certain characters, or they could be major plot points within the murder mystery genre.
Food can service the theme
This is evident in books like the Hunger Games, when food (or lack of) is pretty central to the theme, so it is easy to pick out. However, it doesn’t have to be as obvious as those who have an abundance of food versus those who do not.
There’s a lot of symbolism that can be drawn from specific foods. The forbidden fruit is one that reappears often in fiction, along with bread and wine if there are prevalent Christian themes. Food can also symbolize a nation, like America and an apple pie. Or food can embody vices, like alcohol or sweets.
You can establish a food or type of food that has emotional resonance with a character. Or food could be used as a metaphor. There’s a lot of complexity when it comes to food. Or food is just food and is there to taste good, nothing else.
If you found this post useful, let me know in the comments below. Message me with any content you would like to see in the future!
Stay tuned! If you’re like me and enjoy delectable stories, I have some exciting news about a current project in the works, which will be a sinful taste experience of dark fantasy.