You've heard the old adage, "The way to a man's heart is through his stomach." But have you heard the parallel writer's adage, "The way to a reader’s heart is through her gastronomic senses"? The same principal applies to both—appeal to the senses of smell and taste, and you will soon have the intended recipient eating out of your hand.
In fiction, how characters eat can tell us as much about c personality as what they say or do. The first step is to bring readers to the table with your protagonist; permit them to silently join the scene in which a meal takes place. Many beginning writers make the mistake of merely listing the foods. Yes, a dinner of steak, baked potatoes, green beans, cornbread and ice tea sounds delicious. But that's merely a menu, not a meal. By seasoning this dinner with a few tempting details, you enable your reader to TASTE this scrumptious repast along with your character. Let's spice up your steak with a black peppercorn marinade and grill it to a juicy medium-rare; add sour cream and freshly chopped chives to the baked potato; top your green beans with a concoction of bread crumbs, butter and paprika; and let sweet, honey-butter drip over the edges of your cornbread. Drop a sprig of fresh mint into your iced tea, and now your reader is enjoying this mouth-watering feast.
Don’t forget the setting in which the meal takes place. Was it a restaurant? What type, expensive or modest? Who was there? What time of day? Season? Was it a picnic somewhere? Perhaps a crowded lunchroom or a diner alongside the highway. Dinner for two in a romantic place? Even room service at the character’s hotel? The setting adds an important dimension to your story.
Be adventurous. There is more to life than the standard American meat-and-potatoes fare. Take your reader on a vicarious culinary world tour. Consider writing about special foods from far-away places: African, Asian, Caribbean, French, Greek, Hungarian, Indian, Italian, Mexican, Middle Eastern, or Spanish. Each conjures images of delectable delights associated with distinctive and unique flavors.
When writing about foreign foods, it’s important to know what ingredients are used in the food, how the food is prepared and what is used to flavor it if you are not familiar with the cuisine. For instance, much African cuisine is associated with cumin or coriander. French is associated with heavy sauces seasoned with tarragon or chervil, a la the classic Béarnaise sauce. Greek cooking invokes flavors of olives and lemons. When you think Mexican, you think cilantro and chili peppers. It isn’t necessary to give the entire recipe, (unless required by your editor); just hint at some of its more flavorful ingredients.
At this point you may be throwing your hands in the air and saying, "But I can't even boil water without burning it!" Don't despair. You don't have to be a gourmet chef in order to create tantalizing stories about food. Read what other authors have said about food, memorable meals and culinary delights. When dining out, jot down quick notes about what you ate. Texture, taste, smells. Did you like it or not? What was your total experience? What was going on around you? Did other diners seem to like what they were eating? What was the wait staff like – helpful and attentive or lazy? Or spend some time on the sofa with your television tuned to one of those twenty-four hour cooking stations. Incorporating little details regarding the preparation process can make your story come alive.
Remember that man (or woman) does not live by dinner alone. It's a refreshing change to write about breakfast, lunch, brunch, or a cocktail party and wax poetic on the various textures and tastes associated with high-class hors d'oeuvres. And don’t overlook the sensuousness of a decadent dessert.
Always add beverages to your stories, and remember to describe their flavors or serving temperatures. Perhaps Pierre drank an ice-cold fizzy soda, tangy juice, an exotic coffee or maybe a cozy, hot buttered-rum. Use a few choice words to describe the taste of wine: wild herbs, hay, lemon, berries, chocolate. These additional details make the experiences of your characters come to life for readers.
At this point you may be throwing your hands in the air and saying, "But I can't even boil water without burning it!" Don't despair. You don't have to be a gourmet chef in order to create tantalizing stories about food. Read what other author’s have said about food, memorable meals and culinary delights. When dining out, jot down quick notes about what you ate. Texture, taste, smells. Did you like it or not? What was your total experience? What was going on around you? Did other diners seem to like what they were eating? What was the wait staff like – helpful and attentive or lazy?
When you sit down to write about food for a story, spend a few minutes going over sections of your story where the food scenes takes place. Close your eyes and conjure up the actual food, beverages, who is there, what is going on, where the scene takes place. If in a restaurant, what did the restaurant look like? Or was it a picnic on a park bench, a deserted beach, a crowded train? Maybe dinner in someone’s summer garden. Whatever the place, imagine yourself in that picture. Open your nose to the smells in your imagined surroundings. Fresh bread, ripe strawberries, smoked meats, vine-ripened tomatoes, olive oil. Next, imagine the taste and texture of the food, the sounds around you. This simple exercise will bring to mind images of your experience of the food and help you re-create the scene in your story.
We aren’t talking about writing restaurant reviews here. We are talking about simply describing a memorable meal. Bringing the food to life. Drawing your reader into your character’s experience and leaving them absolutely drooling!
Jacqueline Harmon Butler is an international award winning writer and the recipient of many press awards including Italy’s prestigious "Golden Linchetto Prize” for best foreign journalist and the Lowell Thomas Gold Award for internet publications. Featured in a variety of international journals, newspapers and anthologies, her travel writing has tempted readers’ palates for years with mouth-watering meals.
Her books include: “The 7th Edition of the Travel Writer’s Handbook," “Taking a Chance on Love” is her memoir, and chronicles her suspenseful and sizzling 20-year romance with a younger Italian man. Her latest book, "One Last Trip to Paris," is about a 50 year old woman with 6 months to live, who goes to Paris to begin the live she never had.
Julie Taylor, 50 years old, seemingly has it all, looks, brains and style, and hugely successful in the high tech world. But suddenly her world changes when an inoperable brain aneurysm gives her only six months to live.
With no family, and no emotional attachments, she liquidates her assets and moves from San Francisco to Paris to begin living the life she never had. Unexpected love turns her world upside down and twists and turns of fate send her on a roller coaster ride of a lifetime.
Now available for download at Amazon.