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.