Friday, September 20, 2013

Food and Fiction

We all have to eat, generally about three times a day. Even fictional characters have to eat. Even zombies have to eat. My point is, unless you've created a fantasy world where eating is excluded from the picture, food is going to come into your novel, so you might as well make it work for you.
Give this some thought. Answers to the questions of what your characters eat, where they eat, and with whom they eat, are are all great for developing characters, relationships between characters, and can provide settings, and possibly even plot and conflict. Does that blind date take place at a cheap Chinese buffet and result in food poisoning? Does the rich sister insist the poor sister meet her at an upscale steakhouse, then run out leaving the tab unpaid after a call from her husband's mistress?
Maybe the roll food plays in your book is simple and subtle. In the classic movie Repo Man, the main character opens the cupboard and takes out a can marked only "Food," opens it, and eats with a spoon.
Maybe food is a basic backdrop to your story as in the Japanese comedy, Tampopo, that has at it's center a noodle restaurant.
In my novel, "Love, Sex, and Understanding the Universe" food and eating play many rolls, for example the characters often meet in coffee shops, lemon cake is the only sweet thing one character ever eats, and another character has college classmates teach her recipes from the various countries of their origins, and then there's the strawberries dipped in sugar at midnight scene.
Food is less relevant is my second novel but I had lots of fun with a scene involving two women eating doughnuts at a truck stop and another scene with a woman enjoying a mango while sitting in shallow waves on a Caribbean beach.  
Food offers so many opportunities in fiction, it would be a shame to not take advantage of this readily available tool. Food fight? T.V dinners? The mood at a fast-food joint during off hours? Hot dogs burning on a grill while the parents fight over who takes out the trash? Pink cotton candy stuck in her hair while she cries on a Ferris wheel? A snow cone on a hot day in his favorite flavor changes everything for John Doe? I'm sure you'll come up with something tasty.

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