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Posts Tagged ‘world building’

Food is one aspect of a setting that I really enjoy exploring. I always seem to get much more wrapped up in their menu than in what they’re wearing. In the Minstrels of Skaythe novellas, all the people wear mage robes, peasant dresses and trousers and shirts, mostly without further description, but then I go on a whole paragraph about the river grain, smoked fish, oranges, and what have you.

On the other hand, lazy food choices can really throw me out of a story. I don’t know how many times I’ve read that the characters are eating beef stew, when they supposedly live on an island. Wouldn’t it make more sense for them to eat fish?

Like many aspects of setting, a writer can do double-duty with food. You can draw on things the reader already knows to fill out a setting. Most people have some knowledge about where foods come from and how they are grown and processed. Name foods allows you to imply things about the climate and manufacturing base of an area. For instance, eating bananas implies a warm, tropical landscape. If prickly pear fruits are on the menu, that clearly evokes a desert environment.

Don’t forget the spices and seasonings! Cinnamon, pepper and nutmeg, for instance, are grown from tropical trees. If characters have food spiced with cinnamon or pepper, they either live in a tropical area, or there are trade routes allowing valuable spices to be transported. With this, the author illuminates aspects of the world’s economy.

Readers also have ideas about food that an author can exploit. For example, someone drinking beer might be viewed as working class, while someone drinking wine might seem to be upper class or more educated. Those are broad stereotypes, but they still can be useful.

People also have emotional attachments to food that writers can exploit. Are the characters celebrating? Let them eat cake! Or, you can put an original spin on it. Back in my fan writing days, I had a character who could cook magical foods. She distilled the concept of memory into a lemon meringue pie that brought a master vampire to tears.

What do you think? Is the way to a reader’s heart through their stomach?


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