What we like to eat reveals something about us. If a character orders nothing but salad every time he eats, the natural conclusion is to wonder whether he’s concerned about weight, or cholesterol, or some such. If a dainty, petite woman calls for a sixteen-ounce sirloin and tells the waitress, “I want to hear it mooing,” a picture of her rural upbringing comes readily to mind.
That makes food and drink useful tools for writing. In my first novel, Death of Secrets, Kathy Kelver, the female protagonist, witnesses a murder and then gets accused of making a false report by the police. In response, she and her college roommate open a bottle of wine together at the end of the day. It brings them into focus; it makes them relatable. It helps the reader understand better who they are.
Later in the novel, on the run from deadly adversaries and trying to understand why, Kathy, her roommate, and the male protagonist, Mike Vincent, hole up in a hotel room. The following morning, Vincent brings the two young women breakfast: biscuit sandwiches from a local fast-food joint. Vincent is a Member of Congress but grabbing McMuffins at McDonalds brings him down to Earth. Under stress, he craves grease and salt just like any of the rest of us.
My most recent story is Distant Thunder: An Exile War Novella.* It’s science fiction and space opera, and food and drink help create the world and the setting. At a cocktail party, the main characters nibble on something like a snail from the oceans of Tau Ceti, and drink beer from the finest grains grown there. The food means nothing to the plot, but just by mentioning it, the reader knows this is an interstellar world, space travel is common, and different worlds take pride in their local cuisine.
Food and drink tell us who we are, what we want, where we live, and where we’re going. They’re part of what makes real life worth living, and they’re just as much a part of making up worlds. Any time a book makes good use of that recipe, I know I always come away hungry for more.
Thanks for stopping by to share your food for thought, Bowen!
*Bowen Greenwood’s latest release, Distant Thunder, an Exile War Novella, is free to email subscribers at www.ExileWar.com