We have the lovely Anya Richards with us today. I’m writing a little intro bit so you don’t think I’m completely off my rocker.
What is your favorite food? Are you texture focused (I can’t eat cottage cheese because of the texture, true story! Oatmeal either.)? We hear so often that we shouldn’t spend precious writing space with a polite dinner or other mundane tasks, that all too often authors avoid the mention of food in general.
You know I dabble in sci fi. I adore the genre. Fantasy as well. Think of food as an extension of the character. If your space pirate spends all his time eating processed packages of mushed food…real food/solid food dirtside might just make him sick.
You can, with just a few sentences, show vast differences in culture and personality. Are those who eat with their hands barbarians…or are the people who slaughter sentient animals to use their bones for tableware the barbarians…only you get to decide. Ever meet someone and say “that’s a beer and pizza man”, and come to find out they preferred wine and hated beer? It’s fun when a character assumes one thing about a person, but finds out the opposite is true.
I asked the lovely Anya Richards to do a post on food and characterization. She used food to bust a stereotype, and I was so excited when I read it. I’ll let her tell you about it.
When Dawn asked me to write a piece on how I use food in the development of my characters, my first thought was (to be honest) “Huh?” Then I gave the suggestion more thought and realized that like many aspects of my character development, the question of food often falls into the subliminal category. It’s one of those character traits I do think about, but sometimes don’t make it into the final product. When you’re writing a short story or novella there may not be time for the hero and heroine to eat, but at the back of my mind I know they have to sometime, and I’m considering what they’d go for.
Looking back at my characters, I can remember wondering what kind of food they’d like, whether they’d cook or not when at home and what they’d make, along with what they’d order in a restaurant. Sometimes when writing in the historical context I’ve spent hours researching, immersing myself in the culture of the time, of which food is an important part. In the end, even if I don’t use the information, I’ve decided what my characters would like, and why, using the knowledge as another piece of their foundation.
Our food habits are an off-shoot of our personalities, where we come from, so why should it be any different with fictional characters? The down-to-earth hero, more comfortable in jeans and t-shirts, probably won’t be into haute cuisine. The heroine determined to claw her way up the corporate ladder might have developed expensive tastes, especially if she comes from a poor background. The artistic urbanite might be far more adventurous about what he or she eats than the small-town character who never goes far from home.
Of course, life being what it is, people often have quirks, and those twists illuminate the diversity of a character’s personality, even when it comes to food. That down-to-earth hero may have once dated a girl from a rich family and developed a taste for escargot or fine French food, which he sneaks off to indulge periodically. Our heroine, despite her upward career trajectory, might have a secret stash of Twinkies or Mars bars at home she can’t imagine getting through a stressful day without. The artistic urbanite may cook herself a pot of mash potatoes when depressed, and the small-town character, looking after his aging parents, may be ordering specialty foods off the internet and doing the travelling he always wished he could through the cooking of exotic dishes.
I recently wrote a book, Stone-Hard Passion, featuring a hero who happens to be a troll. Vidar is gentle, shy and solitary, a shepherd by trade, a gardener by inclination. When I came up with a scene with the heroine by herself in his home, I was faced with the question of what she would find in his kitchen to eat.
She’s a jinn, and I just assumed he’d have stocked something he’d think she’d like, so she found figs. Bread is a staple in my life and I’m afraid, by extension, my characters’ too. Besides, I could see Vidar baking bread for some reason, those huge, muscular forearms all covered in flour, the huge hands kneading…um…sorry…got a little sidetracked there LOL! And there were also oranges from his greenhouse. It was only after I wrote the scene I realized somewhere along the line I’d decided he was a vegetarian. And I think that stemmed from my wish/desire/need to distance him from the traditional characterization of trolls as ugly, dumb, meat-tearing behemoths. Although he wasn’t there to eat with her, the contents of his kitchen said a lot about his personality.
Just as it would if you looked in anyone else’s kitchen, or checked out the menus on their fridge, or tried to get them to pick a place to have lunch. Food is one of the basics of life, whether you truly enjoy eating, or only do so because you have to. So to build realistic, true-to-life characters, it helps to think about what they’d eat, cook or crave in times of stress, and use that information to give your readers another glimpse into their personalities.
Thank you so much for stopping by today, Anya. I can’t wait to read this one! If you’re interested in Stone-Hard Passion, you can pick it up at your favorite online retailer or HERE. It’s available for pre-order and I can’t wait to get my grubby paws on it!
If you’re impatient (like me), check out her other books HERE. You won’t be disappointed!
Until next time, Keep Writing!