Fiction Writing: What Does Food Mean?

“Sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar.” — A quote attributed to Sigmund Freud. It means that sometimes you don’t have to look deeply for answers or meanings, and you should just take things at face value.

Sometimes, but not always, a cigar is just a cigar. Well, as I write my novel I am not thinking about cigars. But I am thinking about food. No, not because I’m hungry. But because food can tell readers a lot about a character. The type of food a character eats can tell readers about race, class, gender… culture, religion. Maybe there are foods the character doesn’t eat.

Who cooks the food? The main character? A servant to the main character? Where is the food eaten: a bar where the main character gets information from the bartender? Or in the front seat of a beat up 1975 pick-up while on a police stakeout?

Is this food from a sacred recipe passed down from grandparents? Or is the dinner just an event to get characters together to talk?

Food can have a powerful meaning to readers. In one or two sentences, you can convey poverty or wealth just by describing food. Food is a universal supporting detail in the story because every reader needs to eat. But not every reader will know food is important to culture. With a short sentence or two, you can convey that cultural info, and that will add depth to your character and story.

But don’t get carried away. Unless you are writing a story like “The Hundred-Foot Journey,” food should just be a way to reveal something about the character. Don’t create a seventeen-page description of how to cook Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. Sometimes macaroni and cheese is just macaroni and cheese.

I started thinking about food because I am close to finishing the first draft of my novel. The main character is at a dinner party, and I am thinking about what kind of food should be served. And of course… now that I am writing a short blog post about food, I am getting hungry 😉

Anyway, my first draft looks like it will be around thirty-five thousands words. The final draft, after all the rewrites, edits, and added details… will probably be around one-hundred thousand words.

What about you? What does food mean in your storytelling?

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One thought on “Fiction Writing: What Does Food Mean?

  1. Mac and cheese may sometimes be just Mac and cheese… But other times it is my homemade Mac and cheese which even gets toddlers to refuse the Kraft stuff. Everything you do and get use to is part of your culture. I agree with you that it includes details of what you eat.

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