Has this ever happened to you? Your going along, minding your own beeswax, innocently reading a book and BAM! A character eats something or smells a food and describes it in excruciating detail and your mouth is watering. You just have to have whatever the character is eating and you must haz it now! Nom Nom Nom!!
Sometimes the character is a chef as in the case of Mary Whaley the focus of Lauren Dane’s Lush or Sarah Morgan’s Élise Philippe from Suddenly Last Summer. Sometimes the characters are just eating a food that sounds yummy. As is the case with Gavin’s infamous buffalo chicken dip in Shannon Stacey’s Kowalksi books. I don’t even really like buffalo chicken, but reading the characters enjoy the cheesy gooeyness that is this dip made me want to stuff my face. *
The principal of Checkov’s Gun says that everything that’s in your story should be there for a reason. For both Dane’s Mary and Morgan’s Élise, cooking was a part of who they were as people. It was their love language, how they demonstrated their passion for others and for life. In the case of Stacey’s characters, the dip was a symbol of caring. It brought people together. It was a balm to fractured hearts and a celebration of the good times.
As I reader if there is one particular food that plays a pivotal role in the story or in a key scene, I LOVE it when the writer shares the recipe. From the writer’s perspective, food can be a handy marketing angle. You can write a blog post about the food in question and include the recipe. Shannon Stacey did that with Gavin’s Buffalo Dip. She turned it into a blog post. I’ve shared the link with several people and now, I’m sharing it with you. If you’ve heard of Shannon great, but if not, hmmm that dip is bringing new readers to her fold. In my opinion, this is the best kind of marketing, because it is related to the book, but it’s not a hard sell. I’ve shared it with romance readers and non-romance readers, when they get to the site, it’s easy for them to investigate her books or grab the recipe and run.
You could write about the origin of the food or the recipe. Has it been handed down from generation to generation? Just be careful not start any family feuds (or violate any copyrights)! You could even generate some good natured controversy (do nuts belong in chocolate chip cookies?).
I’m curious, from a reader perspective, do you find it distracting when an author brings food so intimately into the story or do you like it?
From a writer’s perspective have you ever used food as an element in your story? Have you ever used food almost as a character in a story? What are some of your favorite foods in fiction? By all means if you have links to good author recipes, please share them in the comments. If I’m going to be hungry, then we all should be hungry!
*I made this dip for Easter and it was a HUGE hit. I even had a few scoopfuls!
Lee Laughlin is a writer, wife, and mom, frequently all of those things at once. She blogs at Livefearlesslee.com. She has been a member of the Concord Monitor Board of Contributors. Her words have also appeared in a broad range of publications from community newspapers to the Boston Globe. She is currently working on her first novel, a work of contemporary, romantic fiction.