The language of food
What can food say about the characters, setting, structure and sensation in your writing?

Often, we structure our days around food; a family meal, the office lunch break, dinner out with friends or maybe late-night instant ramen to get you through a deadline. But how do you include these moments in fiction writing? And what can you make this say about your characters?

Below, Silas Hand provides some food for thought about using this most evocative of topics in your writing. Why not give these tips a try, then book yourself onto our upcoming workshop led by Cara Marks on the language of food?

Food as habit

Giving your character eating habits and tastes can really flesh them out. Try to think about where they eat, who with, and what? Habits make our characters come alive, giving them the sort of real interior life that readers can identify with. Make use of their tastes in moments of emotion – after a climactic moment, do they come home and relax by cooking, or try and escape to a fancy restaurant among friends – or do they not have the energy to eat at all? Food is a great way to show character rather than telling.

Food as subtext

Another great way food can show instead of telling is to use it in a conversation, when people are saying one thing but meaning another. Often, when people argue, it starts off as a small problem – like burning the dinner, or what restaurant to choose. Use food as a starting point in conversations when people are letting out their emotions through another meaning. Let your characters debate their marriage through a restaurant without enough vegetarian options, or show someone’s romantic interest through appreciation of a badly cooked meal.

Food as structure

You can show a lot about the order of a character’s life through when they eat. Meals are a very everyday moment in your story that can provide order or disorder – if your character has to meet someone for lunch, obstacles preventing this can provide tension. Eating is often entangled with a tight sense of time, so use this to your advantage. Even small moments of tension and disorder can add a lot to your story.

Food as sensation

Food invites rich and flavourful description. All our senses are engaged while eating – not just sight and taste. Think about how you can describe the intense smell of a curry, the way it feels as you chew it, the sizzling sound of the frying pan and the bubbling of the rice. Create a rich sensory experience in your reader, maybe try and make them hungry. A full-bodied description will make your scene come alive.

Food as setting

Food is rich in cultural associations and tradition. Do some research into where you are setting your story and explore what people there eat, when, and why – your character might be eating Sil (pickled herring) in midsummer, as is the tradition in Sweden, or celebrating Diwali with Besan Ladoo and other Indian sweets. It is important to build a sense of specificity into the food. But don’t fall into the trap of problematic food and cultural stereotypes – a character could just as easily be eating a burrito in Manchester as in Cancun, Mexico.

The Language of Food with Cara Marks

Friday 28 February, 2 – 5pm

Fruit on a plate with a book

£45 / £35 conc

Exercise your senses and unlock the powerful potential of memory in this half-day workshop which focuses on writing about that most evocative of topics – food. Whether you’re a budding food critic, or delight in sprinkling culinary detail into your fiction, Cara Marks will share approaches and techniques to help you get started in food writing. Through a mixture of informal discussion, writing exercises, and by tucking into outstanding examples of the genre, you’ll learn ways to craft delectable texts that will leave your reader hungry for more.

Book now

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