Just as I sat down at the computer to dream up a post on what inspires me, the TV in the other room blared: inspired by food. Yeah, okay, I can take a message even when the universe delivers via the boob tube.
But as I started to think about how food inspires me, I realized it’s not only what people eat, but the style with which they do it. Everyone has a style that reveals or hides his or her personality and backstory. We change our style of eating with situations, who we are with and where. Eating is so visible and unavoidable it makes hiding innate quirks almost impossible, even the act of trying to hide or eat in an accustomed style reveals discomfort.
Eating style is a wonderful bit of body language to use when writing and it’s something easily understood by most readers. Actually, thinking about different eating styles and what they mean is a great way to begin creating a character.
How about a billionaire who gobbles his morning oatmeal as if it’s his last meal. What’s the backstory there? Does he hold his spoon in a strange way?
Take a middleclass boy who snacks on cold SpaghettiOs out of a can, dribbling noodles and sauce down his baseball shirt--now make that boy a businesswoman in suit and have her eating in an office storeroom or have her serving it in a boardroom. See how those changes effect how we interpret the character?
Or a teenage girl who refuses to eat samores around the campfire, but later sneaks off on, carefully peels the wrapper from a chocolate bar, folds the wrapper, then nibbles off one square and stashes the rest. Hmmm. What does that say about her and her relationship to the other campers? What does she do with the wrapper and the rest of the chocolate? Is she a serial killer in the making or is it the boy who demands catsup on everything?
My mother grew up during the depression. For Christmas she always got box of Cheese Tidbits. At least, a million times she told me how she’d count out the number of crackers in the box and allow herself one per day as a treat. At ninety years old, she was still assigning numbers to how many treats she and others were allowed: 18 peanuts at cocktail time and five nuts for the dog. I doubt she ever gorged, but she was really good at slobbering coffee.
You get the idea. Now, the next time you’re stuck or dreaming up a story, think about the eating styles of people you know—or go to a restaurant and do some people watching. Look at people eating grapes at the grocery store or beelining for free food samples. Do they enjoy this food without caring who sees or are they sneaky?
Time to fess up. What quirky eating habits do you have or what styles drive you nuts?