How to write food and drink into your fantasy world

Food and drink is a vital part of any society. What we eat and drink depends on the land around us, the trade we have with other countries (or lack of), access to certain ingredients and cooking tools. If we have food from a street vendor or food from a five start Michelin restaurant, then that again is going to be a different experience. It’s the same with what our characters drink – economics and geography will play a part in whether our characters drink the finest wine or struggle for clean, accessible water sources.

One way to show characterisation is by the way your character interacts with the world around them, and one of my favourite ways to show little nuggets of characterisation is through food.

Have they tried a regions food before? Do they like spicey food? Do they hate a particular food from some event in their past? Will they drink alcohol (and are they a lightweight or heavyweight drinker)? Do they have a favourite food (and why)?

The questions are endless, and the opportunities even more so. However, I have three top tips for how to use food and drink to show a character’s particular personality trait:

  1. Pick a trait that impacts the plot. For example, if a character has a specific memory tied to some food that they are eating, make that memory have a purpose to the plot. This heightens your reader’s interest in the “food fact” and makes the piece of worldbuilding more powerful in your overall story.
  2. Get some diverse opinions. If your character hates a particular drink, have them talk about it with another character who loves it. Really make the conversation charged – you’ll be amazed by what kind of dialogue you can write with an opinionated scene!
  3. Use food and drink to show your character’s “worldiness”. If you’ve got a character who is following the stereotypical fantasy trope of “exploring the world for the first time”, then use the food and drink they encounter to help tell that story – make them try foods they haven’t before.

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