Seven Quick-Fire Ways to use Food to Enrich a Novel

Exc1A quickie post for today as I continue to count down towards my Big Day on 1st February (oh, you know what I mean by now, don’t you?).

I use food and mealtimes quite a bit in Singled Out. Here are just a few thoughts on what food related scenes can do for a story.

  1. A social/sociable meal involving two or more people: At home, in a hotel or restaurant, on a picnic, at a barbecue; useful in showing the nature of relationships and the dynamics between various characters. Caution though – this does need quite a bit of dialogue.
  2. Someone eating alone: Reveal character through how they prepare food, what they choose to eat, how they eat and what they do whilst they’re eating.
  3. During a sexual scene: Add a luscious dimension that takes your scene beyond the turgid ‘he touched this, she stroked that…’ zone. Adds sensuality, deploys all the senses without focusing on the obvious.
  4. How someone responds to food: Reveal character through how someone reacts to new or unusual food, or to eating with their fingers or unfamiliar implements. Are they adventurous or narrow-minded, sensual or constrained? Useful in demonstrating how someone’s attitude or demeanour changes over time too.
  5. For nostalgia: The flavours and and aromas of long-forgotten foods, sweets and treats from childhood, school dinners and nursery favourites are all wonderful tools to evoke a mood or nostalgia, or to segue to a flashback/past-times.
  6. In the kitchen: A great location to deploy all the senses – sights, sounds, smells, touches and taste; can be a place of danger (knives, open flames) or comfort (cosy family setting).
  7. A particular single item of food: There are so many different ways of eating, say, an ice-cream, a slice of cake, a plate of wings or ribs, spaghetti, or almost anything else you can think of; can highlight the differences between people, display greed, gluttony, shyness or sensuality.

If you have any favourites that aren’t on this off-the-top-of-my-head list, please do share them.

6 thoughts on “Seven Quick-Fire Ways to use Food to Enrich a Novel

  1. Wonderful tips for a writer to use food and eating to their advantage. For me as a reader, when I read about characters cooking or dining, number five is often invoked. Plus, I get hungry…

    1. I don’t mind at all – in fact, I’m really glad you did.

      You were right too – I didn’t see your post, which omission I’ve now corrected, and I would encourage other readers interested in food/history/Romans/Turkey to go and read.

      It’s fascinating for me on three levels – the food aspect, the market scenario, and the Roman/Turkish historical side. I understand your need for accuracy, balanced with not becoming too obsessive about it all. I went to Turkey on a holiday in 2013, after not having been for several years, specifically to note both sensory and physical detail for my novel. I focused on foods, landscape and atmosphere, scribbling wildly for two weeks – and I took in a couple of markets too. Since I take my characters to Ephesus, I went myself, a second visit, as my last was over 20 years previously.

      I laughed at your picture of the Thermopolium, as I immediately assumed those holes to be communal toilets – of which I had garnered several pictures. Communal toilets, sadly, didn’t make the final edit of Singled Out, but baklava did! Thanks so much for directing me to your post. I’m in awe of the thoroughness of your research.

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