Saturday, April 9, 2011

Everybody's Got To Eat


What do you mean you haven't fed them? Beasties and story people need to eat. Beasties eat story people and they usually like them raw without any dressing. Story people on the other hand prefer their food, as a rule, cooked. It doesn't matter where home is to your characters. Whether it's on this planet, or two stars over, or in a completely different time-period they're going to get hungry. So, before those beasties munch away at your starving hero you need to feed him or her.


Where shall we start? Fast food? Why not? Fast food has been around long before the Golden Arches took over our eating habits. In the future, you can be sure after we have colonized other planets there will be little space ships pulling up to a fast food chain along the Milky Way.


For now, let me take you to London in 1890 where my work in progress, "The Doll Maker" takes place. In this cold, grey world fast food and street vendors were an essential part of the day-to-day living. One particular young character in my story has told me he thinks about food all the time. Don't you Sebastian?


Sebastian: Aye. Though, since I've been working at the theatre, not the Penny Gaffs mind you, I eat more regular. I work the ghost-making machine for the plays that needs'em. Ghosts. It's a good living, better than I had before.


EWG: What's your favorite food to eat?


Sebastian: Hard to say, Miss. When you haven't eaten in a day, what you like is different than when you've had a morsel a few hours before. Ain't it? When the gnawing in my stomach is so bad and that's all I notice. It's a cup of hot soup, I wants. I could see a piece of beef or mutton in the cook shop and it does nothing for me. For a penny, I can have two cups of pea soup. Soup makes me feel safe and toasty like a warm bed.


But, if I hear the Tatoes man calling, "Tatoes. Hot! Hot! Hot! my mouth waters something bad. As soon as I catch sight of the steam coming out the the guv'nor's red tin can, I've got to have one. Hot tatoe with butter and pepper. Makes you feel right good.


EWG: Potatoes with butter, yumm. What about something sweet?


Sebastian: Ah, sweets are for them that have had their stomach filled. Besides, it's gone before you've even had time to enjoy it. When you only have a penny to spend, a sweet dream is not going to fill your stomach. Listen Miss, I need to get back to me job. Best not to stand here too long, if you get my meaning. I can walk you to where you need to go.


EWG: Thank you. I'll be all right.


So, what do your characters want to eat? Yes, I know feeding your story people seems so small when you have a whole world to build. But remember, whether or not you choose to use the information gathered for your worldbuilding will depend on if it enhances or contributes something to move your story forward. Certainly if you don't use the research it will still enrich the image in your mind of the world and characters you are creating. Ultimately, it will be a world your readers will want to call home or at least stay for awhile. By the way, what's for dinner? I'm hungry.


PS: Here's a great site for Victorian England research: www.victorianlondon.org

29 comments:

Rosi said...

Interesting post! Thanks for the research link. I've not written about Victorian England yet, but maybe someday. My WIP is set in the 1920s and follows a young boy on his own. Food is so central. All my crit partners and beta readers comment about how central it is, but I don't think one can write about boys without writing about food.

liveyourwritingdream said...

Loved traveling back to Victorian London with you, Elizabeth! Now I have to go off to find some lunch. You made me hungry...

Looking forward to your next post. (And yes, I promise to feed my characters...)

Take care,
June

Karl said...

Victorian era was all about the fast food. Hot eel,whelks, sheep's trotters, and such. A related blog is http://vichist.blogspot.com/2010/04/fast-food-generation.html
Great...now Im hungry

cgibson5o said...

Hot Tatoes w/butter, mmmmmmmmmm, good. Great post. Love the humor. Made me hungry too. Got to go feed this character.

EW Gibson said...

Rosi,

You're so right about boys and food and we mustn't forget the men. What kind of food does your young fella eat in the 1920's? Is it in America that your story takes place?

Thanks for stopping by.

Elizabeth

EW Gibson said...

live your dream,

Thanks for coming along. :)

Elizabeth

EW Gibson said...

Karl,

Yup, get your hot ells along with your pea soup. Whelks, or snails not my cup of tea. I understand when eating whelks you have it with vinegar. Glad you can by and thanks for the link.

Elizabeth

EW Gibson said...

CG,

Thanks for stopping by, sounds like you are a hungry character.

Elizabeth

Robyn Johnson said...

Wonderful post! I haven't thought much about what I feed my characters before, but you are so correct in that they have to feed. You make great points that what the characters eat is related to their class. As Sebastian said, "Ah, sweets are for them that have had their stomach filled...When you only have a penny to spend, a sweet dream is not going to fill your stomach."

MM the Queen of English said...

Great interview with a character. I realize that my characters don't eat much. I'll have to feed them more regularly.

MM the Queen of English
queenofenglish.wordpress.com

EW Gibson said...

Robyn,

Great observation on your part about class distinction! So, what will you be feeding your guys? Love to know.

Thanks for your feedback.

Elizabeth

Ella Gray said...

This comment was originally posted by Shelley Mira Souza and for some reason it did not show up even though my dashboard said it was published. Sorry about that, Shelley - sometimes these machines have a mind of their own.

'My mouth is watering. Hot tatoes with butter and pepper sounds right up my alley. Though not for breakfast. Guess I'm one of the lucky ones who has my stomach filled enough I can think of something sweet to start off the day, like a fresh mango or toast with butter and honey.'

EW Gibson said...

Shelley,

Now I know why we're friends, you love mango and Char sui bao. Thanks for stopping by.

Elizabeth

Shelley Munro said...

Great post. Eating is such a social activity. I think it adds to the characterization in a story too.

EW Gibson said...

Shelley M,

Thank you. You are right eatings is a social event. How many of our activities are linked to food. There are the holidays, birthdays, meetings...all pleasurable. How about taking it up a notch and make food an item of torture. For example, I've given up sugar, which means no cakes and pies, but it doesn't mean I don't feel the pull against my will. I definitely want them. Sheer torture to pass them by in the grocery store or in the restaurant. Even more so when friends salviate when they talk about eating those sweet things. LOL But,what if your character is allergic to a certain food then is served it, on purpose. Food for thought. :)

Elizabeth

Rosi said...

Hi Elizabeth,

Yes, my young boy is American. He carries a lot of canned sardines, beans, and hardtack, picking apples when he can. Vegetable stew shows up once in a while. It was fun researching the food of the time. Did you know Sears had a food catalog in those days? We learn a lot in our writing.

Rosi

Marilyn Muniz said...

I love food but my characters don't eat much. More research!

Melanie said...

Pea Soup! He can eat at my table anytime. Thanks for reminding me of the centeredness of food. I've touched on it with one of my characters, but I will be taking a closer look when I do the second pass through the novels. Also, reminding us of the ubiquity of food carts. All those travel shows on TV, both the expensive ones and the cheap ones, take you to local eateries. Another reason to watch TV, eek!

Also, love the idea of food as attack.

Hmmm, methinks we need to have a couple of "food holidays" here on the blog... invite our characters to a banquet?
m

EW Gibson said...

Rosi,

What is hardtack? Was that something specifically for that time period, the 20's? Canned Sardines have a fascinating history dating as far back as the mid 1800's, I believe. I didn't know Sears had a food catalog. That must have been fun to go throuogh.

EW Gibson said...

Marliyn,

Don't think of it as research think of it as dinner out with your characters. Unless, of course your main character happens to like blood then I'd say skip that idea! :)

EW Gibson said...

Melaine,

Yes, let's have a banquet and have a food fight and see what are characters are made of. :)

Anonymous said...

This is a fun post! In our teen writing group we do an exercise to help the writers think more deeply about their characters. I pose the question: "Your character is standing in MacDonalds. What does he/she order?" Someone always says something like, "My character is a vampire. Nothing to eat there." One of the kids always has a comeback, like "What about the guy at the cash register?"

lol.

Enjoyed this!

Nettie Whipster

Marilyn Muniz said...

That is funny. There are characters in my WIP who drink blood.

EW Gibson said...

Hey Nettie,

Cool exercise, but the comeback is even cooler. Thanks for coming by.

Elizabeth

EW Gibson said...

Marilyn,

No wonder you haven't looked into to food! How about what type of blood your vampire likes, A, B or O? heheh Maybe he's allergic to B-? :)

Judith van Praag said...

How fun, fun, fun! A thespian myself I'm pleasantly surprised to find you and your character in the theatre! I love Sebastian's voice, very believable, speculative or not ;-) My MC Jake thinks of food almost all the time. He's got a big hole to fill! Glad to have hopped on over here! Will return another time. Toodles!

cgibson5o said...

If, as the old adage goes "you are what you eat" then how can a writer not think about the foods of their characters. We typically identify a limited number of key elements of a society to help define it. Their language, their physical appearance (right or wrong), and their food to name a few. Look at our identification of Chinese, Japanese, Italian, and French cultures. It's hard to think of them without thinking of their cuisine. It seems essential for a fully developed character to have a thorough understanding of their food.

EW Gibson said...

CG,

You make a good point! There is a tendency to define a culture by it's food or at least to indentify a culture through it's food. Our food choices are not only defined by what we eat but why we eat it. To eat meat or not to eat meat! Is it because of moral ethics, or economics or health related. All are choices that can help define your character.
Thank you for stirring up my thinking.

Elizabeth

Marilyn Muniz said...

They aren't vampires, but I don't know what to call them just yet.

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