Friday, May 24, 2013

You gonna eat that?



I read a book recently, a mystery where the heroine was very busy solving crimes and what have you, and it was a decent story, but something struck me. She never ate. Not once, through the entire book. It wasn’t even mentioned. Okay, I understand that the character could have been eating ‘off-screen’ and the author simply chose not to include those parts. But why did I notice it?

Because it didn’t feel natural. Food is instrumental, and aside from the whole needing it to survive thing, eating is part of everyone’s life, something that usually happens several times a day. I guess I feel that if you’re writing a full length novel, at some point or other, your character should at least pick up some take-out. Everyone gets hungry, even when busy or distracted. Like when you’re out drinking with friends and food is the last thing on your mind, then one of them walks up with a sausage roll from a street vendor, and suddenly you will not rest until you eat something. Steal a pizza, kill a fucking wolf, whatever it takes.

This is why I get annoyed when characters ‘suddenly realize they’d eaten nothing in two days’. I know there are people who don’t eat when they’re stressed, I have friends like that. But for the most part, hunger will push its way to the forefront and demand attention, no matter how many murderers you’re trying to catch. Even more irritating is the heroine who is constantly sitting down to eat, then realizing she simply cannot, and pushing the plate away. For days on end. You see it in movies, where a couple meets out for dinner, gets in a heated discussion, and leave their plates full. I’m always like…dude, you gonna EAT that? There’s like 60 bucks worth of lobster there, man! At least finish the wine before you storm off! It’s unrealistic.

It could be a personal perspective of course. I have a good appetite and start to feel nauseous if I don’t eat for long periods of time. But most of the real live humans I know don’t skip meals, no matter how caught up in their day they are. You can toss it into the story with simple, small details. Have her stuff down a sandwich while she’s working, or meet a client for lunch. Say she ordered a salad and leave it at that, it’s not necessary to describe every crouton.

But take a moment when you finish your novel, and ask yourself if you've fed your characters. It’s a small thing to toss them a slice of pizza while they’re out killing demons or winning the heart of the hot guy who moved in next door. But it can be a huge part of giving your brain children an element of reality, which is what we all strive for in fiction.   

9 comments:

  1. I've run into this too and it totally baffles me--food is a GREAT way to add depth for your characters, especially since it's a part of everyone's day and details can be thrown in unobtrusively. Are they the fast food type? Home cooked meal? A style of food? And give it more thought from there--if you make your character a vegetarian or vegan, I'm going to have trouble with them sitting down to eat in any restaurant--especially rurally--without a fuss because I know what that's like. Further, going for the opposite of what people expect with food is all the more fun, as it's always my unexpected characters who love cooking elaborate meals from scratch.

    Also, GROCERIES. If your novel takes place over a couple of weeks, peeps gotta not just eat but head out and buy stuff. Doesn't need a chapter devoted to it but a simple "picked up some bread & peanut butter at the corner store to get me through these late nights solving murders" will suffice.

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    1. haha I had to deal with that writing Shep and his brothers as vegetarians, and as in real life had to ponder whether or not there would be cheese in their veggie lasagna.

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  2. "There’s like 60 bucks worth of lobster there, man! At least finish the wine before you storm off! It’s unrealistic."

    Never leave a glass of wine behind. Amen.

    I'm the same way with my coffee. I might want to kill you with my spoon, but I'm not leaving the restaurant until the coffee has been swallowed.

    Awesome points. At the other extreme, I've read books where the author doesn't want the characters to skip a meal. That puts me off a little too. I've been known to comment in the margin: bacon and eggs again? Didn't they eat last chapter?

    Usually they also want to put in every bath, every trip to "make water" (kill me now)and every clothing change as well...but then, I might just have been reading 80's romances again. :D

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    1. Yeah, there are books that go overboard with the food explanations too, I remember reading the Godfather for the first time and being starving all the way through. I ate a lot of pasta that week.

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    2. YES. My WIP, a chunk of it takes place in a cave, so there's a paragraph devoted to them stopping and how bathroom arrangements work (beta said "Oh good, I was wondering!"), then I trust the reader to fill in the blanks rather than describe every future pit stop. I'm not a character's doctor, I don't need to be told in detail what goes on between them and a toilet.

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    3. I was just wondering recently why the brig in Star Trek series' never have bathrooms. Klingons gots ta poop, right?

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    4. I think I need a T-shirt that says, Klingons Gots Ta Poop.

      I almost spit out coffee!

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  3. Great post! But Klingons do not poo; they only kill.
    Or maybe they throw their business into the forcefield which seals the brig, and it gets frazzled into ionized particles. ("Farticles").

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    1. That's why Klingons are so cranky around humans - they can only poop on Kronos, their sacred homeland where the only real Klingon port-a-potties exist. It's an honor thing...

      Some personal details really shouldn't be shared. A brief mention, if it adds to the story, is enough.

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