If you have read “Like Water for Chocolate,” by Laura Esquivel, or “Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously,” by Julie Powell, or “The Things They Carried,” by Tim O’Brien, or…I could just keep going…you know how important food can be to a story. We have it around us every day, we all have our partiuclar favorite dish, idiosyncratic flavor combinations, and favorite (or least favorite) family recipes. If your house is anything like my house, the food I make is what makes it smell like “my” house.
Since taste and smell are two of the five senses, including a food description in a scene can help bring it alive and place your reader into your story. This is a good way to “show, don’t tell” that will make most scenes more relatable. You can also set mood and tone with cooking smells and flavors. You can explain a whole culture by its food. And you can use it in negative or positive ways. Too much, too little, too rich, too salty, or…just perfect.
For an exercise, put food in a scene. It can be prominent or mere background. It can be the focus of a character’s emotion, or a way that two characters relate to one another. It can be life or death.
- If you have trouble finding your way into this one, try thinking about a favorite food from your childhood and how that food made the moment perfect–how do you react now when you have, or even just smell, that same food today?
- Or, think about your favorite food now. Do you go the distance to make it perfect for yourself? Or do you make a special trip to that restaurant to get it once a week? What would happen if you introduce this deliciousness to someone else? Would they think you are crazy for liking it? Would they share your enthusiasm and demand the recipe? Would you share it?
- Or, think about a trip you took and how the food made it an even exceptional experience, or how the food ruined everything for you. What did it smell like? Where where you? Why was it so amazingly good or bad? What did you find yourself “homesick” for?