Have you ever read a book that made you crave a food mentioned in the pages? Something that sounded so good, you went out searching for that food? Personally, I can think of at least two books right off the top of my head that sent me in search of foods I’d never even tried before.
The first was this passage from Chloe Neill’s SOME GIRLS BITE:
I put the bag on the kitchen counter and picked through it until I found the paper box of fried crab-and-cream-cheese-stuffed dough and a container of sweet-and-sour-sauce. I popped them both open, dipped the wrap in the sauce, and bit in. They were still hot–and I groaned happily at the taste: sweet, salty, crispy, creamy. Everything a newly changed vampire could want.
It’s not a long passage, and definitely nothing vital to the story. Mostly this very short passage helps ground the reader. It delivers a quick engagement of the senses (taste: sweet and salty; touch/tactile: crispy and creamy; that crispy also gives you a sound) and slips in a real world activity/experience the reader can relate to. I also happened to read that particular passage right around dinner time. Chinese suddenly sounded good, and hey, what do you know, crab rangoon was on the takeout menu. I’d never tried it before, but based on that description, I decided to order some. Several years later, I still order crab rangoon whenever I order Chinese takeout–I blame Merit and Chloe. ^_^
The other example that immediately pops into my head is Rachel Caine’s GLASS HOUSES. After I closed that book, I ended up spending a week searching for a good chili recipe. I don’t remember which passage in particular got stuck in my brain–I remember the book having a lot of chili in it–but here is the first example I came across in the text:
Claire picked up the spoon and tried a tentative bite of the chili, which was thick and meaty and spicy, heavy on the garlic. Delicious, in fact. She’d gotten used to cafeteria food, and this was just . . . wow
Like with the earlier example, the passage conveys several senses in a quick, snapshot of images. Thick tells you about the texture, meaty gives you a visual, spicy is a taste, and heavy on the garlic pulls double duty with taste and smell. Can’t you picture that bowel of chili? She doesn’t wax euphoric, it is a very fast description, and yet it grounds the reader by engaging multiple senses.
In contrast, I recently read a book that had a lot of food in it, but instead of making me think “man, I’ve got to get me some of that” left me thinking “This chick is eating again?” The main character ate gyros, burgers, falafels–I don’t even remember what else. I probably can’t remember because it wasn’t memorable. Oh, the author described some of the meals in detail as far as what was ordered, but there were no sense descriptions to go with the food so they didn’t become anything more than words.
Many writers out there are probably saying “I don’t care if I make people hungry–I just want to tell the story.” And that’s just fine. This post, while focusing on food examples, is actually about engaging the senses and pulling in your reader. Taste and small are the oft overlooked senses, but they are senses we use every day and they have a place in fiction. Part of being a writer is being an observer of life. In the next couple days, try to pay attention to smells and tastes. When you go to bed, do the linens smell of your fabric softener, your spouse’s conditioner, your dog? How about the elevator, what does is smell like? Taste is harder and definitely not a sense you can work into every or even most scenes. It’s harder still if you’re looking for something other than food or intimate examples, but throughout the day you might run into something that will give your writing that touch of authenticity. Also, notice in the above examples how despite their brevity, multiple senses were engaged. Writing shouldn’t be a laundry list of every sensation possible, but look for places you can give extra power to your writing by grounding the reader with more than one sense.
Okay, I’ve babbled on long enough, but before I go, I’d like to repeat my earlier question: Has a book ever made you hungry