1. That Guy From That Place
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    That Guy From That Place New Member

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    Don't starve your characters!

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by That Guy From That Place, Aug 1, 2008.

    A lot of times in a story we only see one good meal... Either that, or none at all. Unless your story only spans one day, your characters have to eat. Sure the reader may not notice that your sword-wielding adventurers or your mafia thugs haven't eaten in the past four days, but they will notice it if they do eat or at least make a comment regarding absent meals. As a reader, I respect anyone willing to put some food on the table for they're characters.

    No, that raccoon your elf roasted wont do a 30 day adventure any justice and that food-fight in the mess hall wont make your military academy students grow any stronger in that coming-of-age story of yours. A meal a day will keep the questions away (no matter how small)

    This topic is here to discuss food and eating in stories. When do you decide your characters can't take the hunger any longer. When do they eat? What do they eat? how often? do they even need food? Did you forget your characters need a snack every once in a while?
    This is the spot to put your story-based meals on on the table. (Whether they exist or not.)
     
  2. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I think the question belongs to a larger concept of showing (or not) the mundane parts of the day in the life of any story. I agree with you to an extent, that some of these things (meals, using the lav, etc) might make for a more realistic feeling, but how much of this can one show before the reader finally thinks, “Yes, we get it, they have to eat three times a day, and make a poop from time to time! Enough already!”
     
  3. Chef Dave
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    Chef Dave Member

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    Have any of you read the sci-fi series about a character named Sten and the immortal Emperor? It was written by Chris Bunch and Allan Cole.

    The immortal Emperor is immortal in the sense that he's a clone. When his current body dies, his last memories are downloaded into a new clone and voila, the Emperor reappears ... eternally youthful and vibrant.

    One of the interesting things about this series is that the Emperor enjoys cooking as do some of the other characters. There was one scene where the production of jerked chicken was used as the background setting for a discussion about rebellion. It was pretty neat!

    Since the story isn't a cookbook, no recipes were given ... but no matter. I recognized the technique and was actually inspired to have my culinary arts students make jerked chicken for sale as our daily plated special.

    It was great fun!
     
  4. Silver Random
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    Silver Random Senior Member

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    I would say if your characters are in a city, town, or somewhere they can easily get food, then you dont really have to mention food, unless there is actual significant dialogue between characters at a meal. And if you do, you can always just say "He stopped at a cafe for a quick snack," and move on.


    When it comes to, as you mentioned, "the 30 day adventure," then you have to worry about food. I remember in one of my early fantasy works when i wrote when i was younger, i thought i was smart because i remembered to have my characters complain about being hungry and worry about how they would get food. But when i actually looked back and read it, i realised that it was almost completely forgotten about after 2 days of having stuff like a piece of fruit and a rabbit burned over a fire once a day :(

    Also something that annoys me is that it seems that everyone i read about seems to "not realise how hungry they are until they sit down and start eating," even though they have gone for 2 days or something without food. That just seems like an easy way to deal with hunger without having to write constantly write that your character is starving, and while i know that people sometimes dont notice hunger, i think after a day without food most people who are used to 3 meals a day will realise they feel a bit peckish.
     
  5. Scribe Rewan
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    Scribe Rewan Contributing Member

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    I include it only if it really needs to be told. As Wreybies said, the audience can assume it, and it doesn't really, in my opinion, need to be said unless it suits the story.
     
  6. Ungood
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    Ungood Contributing Member

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    I agree with this.
     
  7. zorell
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    zorell Contributing Member

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    I write into my stories, but I have to admit it's usually just a backdrop or fluff when I can't think of a transition. I see what you mean though. I can write the food going in, but it's awkward for me to write it coming out.
     
  8. SonnehLee
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    SonnehLee Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think S.R. hit the nail on the head. For me, my characters go through daily life, so my characters have to eat. As does my MC's baby. So, I show a lot of meals and such.
     
  9. Milady
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    Milady Contributing Member

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    Food's actually a main point of my story. You know, gotta have it to survive and all that. But in other things, I usually make a passing glance at food and hygiene in narration and time passing summary. (that makes me sound boring...)
     
  10. Daisy
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    Daisy New Member

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    Because most of my work is centered around contemporary characters in the real world, I find meals can sometimes be a useful way to bring my characters together for certain group dialogue that moves the story forward. I don't use too many of them though and skirt around other required meals, beverages, with a quick reference.

    I admit I rarely go into too many bodily functions, liquid or solid re-adjustments if you will, although I often include oral hygiene, shower and bathing scenes, either in detail if it is helpful to the story or also skirted over by reference. Hopefully the reader will assume certain functions were also handled during some of those bathroom scenes / references.

    I don't write fantasy, but I do read it and unless it is explained that the characters were not required to eat for energy or life, I would question it as a reader? In murder and horror, I don't find it a problem at all to read about bodily functions. Seems appropriate in dark stories for some reason.
     
  11. tehuti88
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    tehuti88 Contributing Member

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    I have issues with this at times, but I find that more often my problem is with having my characters find time to take a bathroom break. I recall that in one story when I made myself have the main character leave to do so, she ended up getting distracted by something going on and thus never got the chance! :redface:

    Also injuries; my characters sure get up and keep moving pretty well despite getting knocked around a lot. Eh. *shrug*

    Since my current WIP is concerned with Woodland Indians there's lots of mention of soup (sometimes corn soup) and tea and dried fish and meat. The MC offers some hostile Indians S'mores to try to smooth things over. My Thunderbird characters eat snakes, which freaks out the MC. So does the fact that the natives seem to flavor everything, like their wild rice, with maple sugar. *LOL*
     
  12. That Guy From That Place
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    That Guy From That Place New Member

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    I would love to see a comedic short story based on that idea!

    But anywho... It's good to see all the ideas that have been put on the table so far. It seems that the most popular meals in stories are the ones that matter. The ones that either lead to conflict or the ones that allow characters to learn more about each other... And of of course, the ones that satisfy a hungry character.

    Bathroom scenes lean more toward awkwardness, I'd definitely rather not have to read about them unless they actually progress the story (which also applies for food). But of course if you have food go in, it's best to have it come out as well (whether it be diarrhea in a public bathroom or something a little more subtle) it doesn't necessary have to be right after after the eating scene either, as long as its there.
     
  13. Scribe Rewan
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    Scribe Rewan Contributing Member

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    If it was right after the characters ate I would be worried about their digestion!
     
  14. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I can't ever once remember anyone on the starship Enterprise (in any of its incarnations) ever excusing themselves to drop the kids off at the pool. I’m sure they had to from time to time, except Data, of course. If I thought about it deeply enough (as I am doing now) I would think that the internal plumbing of the NCC-1701-(insert letter) would be a subject of some interest.

    Star Trek did a great job of explaining its fantastical tech. Any trekker knows about Jeffries Tubes, pattern buffers, long range scanners, tricorders, plasma conduits, nacelle tubes, impulse engines and warp cores. But what happens after someone flushes the WC in Ten Forward? Does it become part of the matter in the matter – antimatter reaction in the warp core? Is it escorted into space through a plasma conduit? Who knows!

    The point is, it doesn’t matter. Really, it doesn’t.

    I mean, could you imagine?

    Kirk- “Spock! I think. I must. Go. And take a crap!” (My rendition of how Kirk speaks)

    Spock- “Intriguing. Humans are such curios creatures.”
     
  15. Charisma
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    Charisma Transposon Contributor

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    For all I know, describing every single action in a day of a character is just mundane. Unless that is the core of your story, you shouldn't push in such details for the sake of it. However, I've never written fantasy, but when I write realistic fiction I add about one-three detailed meals throughout the novel, and several mentions of meals in the novel. I even make sure my story time line is correct, the food is appropriate and if I move ahead of a time segment (e.g. I miss lunchtime while an action scene), I see if it is important to show that the character is hungry or whatever. If it is, I show it, and otherwise I dispose it off as a meaningless detail.
     
  16. Shizai Ko
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    Shizai Ko New Member

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    Thanks, I forget my diner table scenes sometimes. That's a good thing to keep in mind when I need a filler or transitional scenes.
     
  17. skip slocum
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    skip slocum Member

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    Good points/good discusstion,,
     
  18. That Guy From That Place
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    That Guy From That Place New Member

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    That's a good way to put it. The few big meals allow for character development while the mentioning of smaller ones keep the the picky readers at bay.
     
  19. raindog
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    raindog New Member

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    Now that I think about it, eating defines a lot of stories. It's integral to Cormac Mccarthy's The Road.
     
  20. Ladder Writer
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    Ladder Writer New Member

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    I think that everyday bodily needs and functions need only be mentioned in passing or not at all unless it a) develops the plot or b) helps character development/reader understanding of the character in an interested way. For example, The Wasp Factory - that's one of my favourite books, and Iain Banks describes the protagonist doing a lot of mundane tasks such as washing, going to the toilet etc in a fair bit of detail. The slightly obsessive detail gives you a sense that the character is obsessive about this detail. What the character eats can be turned into interesting character traits, but only if it suits the needs of your novel. Unless you're reporting on your character 24 hours a day, readers will assume that the hours your character lives outside the novel (if you have succeeded in creating a realistic character!) will be those filled with the mundane activities.
     
  21. Miss Kasia
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    Miss Kasia New Member

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    I agree with Ladder Writer-- when you've got your characters living in a normal situation, we can assume that we're seeing "highlights" that are relevant to the story.

    In my current project, though, my characters live a transient lifestyle where basics of survival are an issue for them. It wouldn't make a bit of sense to dismiss details like where they're sleeping, when they're eating, or what they're wearing.

    The best I can do is make them as inobtrusive as possible. A token sentence thrown in as description, ("As John spoke, Jane rooted around her bag, trying to find a passably clean sweater,") answers a reader's questions without raising new ones.

    And once I've established a consistent part of their lifestyle ("When they're in motels, they do laundry") I don't really feel the need to revisit it again.

    Except for awkward dinner scenes. I'll revisit those again and again ;)
     
  22. Nilfiry
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    Nilfiry Contributing Member

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    I personally like to write about eating scenes because they're such good openings for comic relief and character development, but even so I only do it for special events. Characters do need to eat and drink, but mentioning it alot without it contributing much to the story in any way other than word count is boring---to the readers as well. If the character(s) are doing some long distance travel, I just establish some method the character(s) uses to eat and leave it as that until something else happens. Like in one fantasy, I mention some of my characters can go on for a long time without eating or drinking thanks to their ability of magic particle absorption, which also allows them to absorb moisture in the atmosphere.
     
  23. Ladder Writer
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    Ladder Writer New Member

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    I like the idea as using an 'eating scene' to bring in a bit of comic relief, very Shakespearian hehe. I think it only really works however is if it's given freshness, a unique touch - otherwise the reader may quickly label as a filler scene that they don't need to pay much attention to. Partly this is the point of course - as it can provide them with a little light relief, however at the same time you need to grip their attention!
     
  24. Cheeno
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    Cheeno Contributing Member

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    If it moves the story along; setting the scene and developing character. Other than that, there's no real point.
     
  25. That Guy From That Place
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    That Guy From That Place New Member

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    Hmmm... It seems that eating is better used as a framing device for conversation rather then an actual event.
     

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