Should an author of fiction incorporate food into a novel? I don’t know of any studies done on successful novels that include significant references to food. Frankly, I can’t think of any novels I’ve read that use food in any deliberate way. Yet, for me, I would find it difficult to give depth to the characters I create in my novels, if I couldn’t use food. In my novel, Goodbye Milky Way – An Earth in Jeopardy Adventure, I use food scenes and references to enhance the reader’s visualization of the characters and their interactions.
What could I have possibly been trying to do with this exchange?
It was hard to read his face, but Marla thought the Guardian genuinely enjoyed the chicken Marsala. She had ordered the tilapia.
“My tilapia is delicious. How’s your chicken, Guardian?” asked Marla.
“It’s quite good indeed. I haven’t had a Marsala dish in a long while. I’m impressed with the chef,” said the Guardian.
I intended it to make Guardian appear approachable, yet sophisticated; after all, he’s a technologically advanced alien. I didn’t want him to be uptight, stuffy, or unapproachable. Neither did I want him to be too cute and cuddly. With this and other passages, I tried to portray that extreme intelligence or extensive knowledge does not turn even an alien into an automaton who can’t enjoy the little pleasures of life and the joy of talking with friends. Aliens can have fun just as humans do.
Sometimes an author needs to establish an atmosphere to bring the scene to life. I find an effective method is to describe the aroma of food and the music that goes with it. On occasion, I add little hidden gems in my writing that go right over the head of some of the most discerning readers. Here’s an excerpt from Goodbye Milky Way that describes a few main characters reminiscing at a local restaurant in Rivera, Ecuador. What they’re eating is a gem.
“Give them a break, Tom,” said Marla. “They had never launched a configuration like that one, with five Delta IV’s firing-up simultaneously . . . They had over five times the number of things that could go wrong.”
A flamenco guitar and a marimba played a mestizo tune, while aromas of sizzling steak, lomo salteado, and tronquito soup pervaded the air.
Of course any device can be overdone, so it’s important for an author to mix it up with verbal images that arouse the reader’s imagination. In particular, a character’s surroundings and his thoughts about the surroundings are important for developing an in-depth persona for each character. I believe an author should not forget that food and drink are not just basic necessities of life . . . they play a big part in defining us culturally and individually. Personally, I can’t imagine creating characters in a novel without including their eating and drinking habits.
Thanks for stopping by and sharing some Food For Thought, Dan!
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