Everyone has to eat—that’s a fact. Because food is such a universal element, describing food with sensory techniques will always draw your reader into your work. When you’re stuck not knowing how to get to the next scene, consider inserting some sort of food experience. How does the food taste, smell, sound like, look like or feel like? If you’re not sure about the sounds, use sounds that utensils make when they hit bowls or plates. Ice clinking against a glass or a fork scraping against a pie plate will immediately place your reader in the scene.
You can also consider how everyone behaves around the table—does the sister pick at her food, never eating anything green? Does the son refuse to have his vegetables touch his meat? Is someone in the family abusing or refusing food? Does the mom have a negative food experience going back to childhood? For instance, she hates cooking chicken for her family because she accidentally lopped off a chicken’s neck when she was visiting her aunt’s farm at ten years old.
Food also is a window into culture, customs, religion, social order and psychology. Food makes the world you’re describing in your pages real to us. This is especially important if you’re writing fantasy or science fiction. When you have your characters eat, they become part of our world, too and we can better relate to them. Who can forget Bilbo Baggins and his second breakfast in J. R. R. Tolkien’s novel The Hobbit?
How many of you remember the scene in Star Wars when Luke is having dinner with his aunt and uncle on Tatooine? Aunt Beru uses a space blender! The scene is important because we learn what Luke wants most in the world: he wants to leave his family and join the Rebellion, but his uncle wants him to stay another season helping on the moisture farm. Suddenly, this dinner scene made the movie real to viewers because it’s so universal. Instead of just being people on another planet, this is a family gathered around the table having an argument. Now we care what happens to them because they are like us.
Here are five food writing-related prompts you can use to unblock yourself and make your writing more relatable to your readers. Enjoy!
Exercise # 1
Pick a color.
Once you pick your color, pair it with food or beverage of that same color.
Now use the senses (sound, taste, touch, sight, and smell) to describe that one food/beverage.
Write it out in sentences, in a list, in a paragraph, in phrases—it doesn’t matter!
Exercise # 2
What is your favorite food and why? If you’re having trouble coming up with ideas, use some of my favorites listed below. Locate a personal experience around your food. Write 5 sentences letting us know where you are, if you are sitting/standing and what you’re doing with a few sensory details.
French bread or any crusty bread
French Onion Soup
Exercise # 3
Make a list of sensory words that can be applied to food. Below are a few to start your thinking/writing process. Don’t forget the sounds of cooking and eating!
Now after you have made your list, go ahead and use your list to make comparisons (but try to make the comparison not about food!):
Brittle as old Scotch tape
Mushy as a wet newspaper on the floor after a snow day
Bitter as my mother’s voice
If you’d like to develop your writing about food talents, I’m teaching an online workshop called “Writing About Food” starting next Monday, Dec 3rd. Details below!
Writing About Food at SavvyAuthors.com
December 3, 2012 – December 16, 2012
Cost: $20 (basic member) and $10 (premium member)
Food writing is a rapidly expanding genre that relies on sensory experience to produce memories and shed light on human relationships. We’ll cook up some powerful prose thanks to Alice’s writing prompts and at-home exercises. Before the first lesson come prepared to share a favorite family recipe as well as a piece you are currently working on. All writing levels and all genres welcome. There will be six lessons that will include prompts, an online chat and every student assignment will be reviewed by the instructor individually.