Yup you heard right! It’s Nancy J. Cohen! Grab a chair and some drinks! You don’t want to miss this post!
WORLD BUILDING: FUN WITH FOOD
Cultures can be defined by their cuisines. Where one might be sophisticated, offering dishes prepared with elaborate sauces and exotic ingredients, another might dispense simple fare such as stews and soups made from locally grown produce.
The types of foods that are popular can be as diverse as the methods of preparation. Practices may vary widely depending on time and place. Consider the ambiance of a formal dinner setting in your chosen genre, for example, or the value placed upon the cookery profession across the globe. Writers should give careful consideration to these points to enhance their story’s setting. A historical romance set in early Scotland will showcase different foods than a contemporary mystery set in Florida. Using regional specialties is one way to add flavor to your story.
Here are some additional aspects of your world to consider:
- Method of Preparation
Is food prepared in a modern kitchen, over an open fire, or conjured from a fabricator as in Circle of Light, my first futuristic novel? Deciding how your characters prepare meals is important to your setting. Imagine how many scenes you’ve read wherein the heroine is talking to the hero while preparing a dish in her kitchen or making coffee. First determine the level of technology in your world and then how it’s used to prepare meals. What about processing: are foods cleaned and packaged by hand or is it automated? Or maybe the food is artificial? Watch Soylent Green if you haven’t seen this classic sci fi movie. What the people eat in this film is crucial to the story, and it sticks in your mind for years afterward.
- Chefs or Scullery Maids
Who is responsible for cooking in your culture? Is cooking considered a chore or an art? Do women share the same roles as men? Is being a chef a respected job or a lowly lifestyle?
- Food Sources
How is food obtained? Is it home grown, genetically manipulated, or imported? Are natural food sources plentiful or scarce? What are the staples found in every household? What is considered a rare delicacy?
- Cultural Practices
Are food choices simplistic or gourmet? Vegetarian or carnivore? What are the taboos?
What are the customary meal times? What special foods are eaten on holidays?
- Individual Preferences
What if your hero loves to sink his teeth into a juicy steak, but the smell of meat makes your heroine ill? Or, she loves chocolate and he gets a rash whenever he eats it. Give each character a food preference for distinction.
- Dining Establishments
Is the kitchen the central hub in your character’s house or a place to gobble fast food? Does she eat out in restaurants? Are they fancy places or taverns with straw on the floor? How does one order food in these places, and who serves it? What type of food does your hero like best?
What utensils does he use? How does he pay for the meal?
Food scenes can provide a source of levity, heighten conflict, or reveal character. What, how, and where your hero eats reveals personality traits and shows how he fits in with society. Witness this sequence from Silver Serenade, my latest futuristic romance. Silver, a S.I.N. agent and niece to Earth Centrum’s political leader, brings a man to dinner: Jace Vernon, a convicted criminal who comes from another planet and is in her custody.
Silver glanced at Jace. He’d downed the soup like a starving man, keeping his head bowed as though food were the only thing on his mind. However, she knew he was listening from the way the cords stood out on his forearms. His tension electrified the air between them.
“What is this?” Jace asked, pointing to the mud-colored mound on his plate after the servants delivered the next course.
“Chopped liver.” Silver admired his dashing figure. He sat at the table as though born to nobility, which she supposed fit his former status on Kurash. His resolute jaw, keen eyes, and confident pose resonated through her. “Spread it on a cracker, and try a bite. It goes good with the sweetbreads.”
“That is bread?” He looked askance at the dish.
“Sweetbreads are made from the thymus or pancreas of a calf,” Festor Niles pronounced in a loud voice. “It’s quite a delicacy.”
Jace’s complexion turned a sickly hue. “Liver that looks like mashed dung, and other organs from the bodies of dead animals? I didn’t read anything about this in my cultural studies.”
“Really?” Niles sneered at him. “What did you learn, that we’d be an easy race to conquer? Or as easy to kill as those two men you beat to a pulp on the space station?”
Silver gave Niles a sharp glance. She hadn’t discussed that incident with anyone except Major Dean.
“I learned your women are beautiful.” Jace sipped his wine. “And your politicians can lie as well as our own.”
Can you feel the tension in this scene? Sense Jace’s discomfort? Certainly the dialogue has more to do with politics than with the cuisine. Plus it’s obvious the host didn’t go out of his way to please Jace, an unwanted guest. So while food may have been the topic of conversation, we learn a bit about Jace’s dietary preferences along with the political undercurrents at the dinner table.
Meals play an important part in establishing mood, creating a setting, and developing characters. What memorable food scenes do you remember from stories you’ve read?
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Ace pilot Jace Vernon is forced to flee his home world after being framed for murder. He seeks justice, but S.I.N. agent Silver Malloy gets in his way. The platinum-haired beauty counters his every move in the quest to clear his name. As he makes it his mission to break her, he doesn’t count on the personal consequences of success.
Silver refuses to abort her deadly mission even if it means killing the one man Jace needs alive to prove his innocence. Her resolve wavers when Jace’s charms melt the barriers around her heart. Can she help him win his case, even if it means betraying her own people?
“Get ready for an epic adventure, as vast as the universe in which it is set! With a touching love story, a great blend of humor, action and passion, and a great cast of characters, this is a book that won’t let you go until the very last page.”