Good Saturday, everyone, or whatever day it may be for you. Remember last week when I asked you to share food scenes that moved you as a reader? Today, let’s identify what made those scenes work for us, and think about how we apply that to our own writing.
I think it’s important to remember that food is a very basic need – right at the base of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, with friends like water and shelter and sex. When you write about food, you are writing about basic human needs that every human reader has.
I noticed four important things that turn food porn into something that makes a great food scene. It’s not a comprehensive list, and I’d love to hear what you think.
1. It’s got to be something that the characters need. It might mean a break, or it might be about needing warmth, friendship, truce, or all the other things that “breaking bread” signifies.
In Lord Miles Vorkosigan’s case, he’s been isolated by an off-planet career, and he’s been subsisting on Reddi-meals (think futuristic TV dinners). The lunchbox from Memory (Lois McMaster Bujold) that I quote in the comments last week leads him to hiring a cook, which is a key to his social re-integration. Now he can throw fabulous dinner parties and use those for the politicking that his position requires. Ma Kosti’s food expertise will help Miles help his brother, and her meals and snacks play a key role in his courtship. Ma Kosti’s food will help Miles get the things he needs: not only food, but love, friendship, shelter and everything else Maslow talks about.
2. The food will often carry memories, particularly childhood memories, and often those memories will carry connotations of fun and comfort. The bratwurst sausages that Cal feeds Min in Jennifer Crusie’s Bet Me remind her of the times when her father would take Min and her sister out for brats, pulling one over on the girls’ mother and her draconian nutritional rules. The sausages, for Min, carry memories of male bonding, fun, defiance and getting away with something – all elements in her courtship with Cal. It’s like a psychological profile in a bun, and works really well in the book.
3. Just like Baby Bear’s porridge, the level of detail should be “just right” – enough to spark those associations in readers’ minds, but not so much as to cause eyes to glaze over.
4. Like a good sex scene, a food scene should be an important scene that turns the book. After that meal, snack or tidbit, nothing should be the same.
I leave you with one last, great food scene. This is from Arsenic and Old Lace. Thanks to that play and subsequent movie, elderberry wine and sweet old ladies have developed a deliciously creepy vibe that still shows up in pop culture from time to time.
What foods are making an appearance in your WIPs? How hard are they working?