So you’ve come upon the impossible task of making two strangers bond a.k.a making two characters form a connection readers will care about. If you were writing speculative fiction you could make them go through an experience so traumatic they couldn’t help but become friends. But no, you choose the sweet & mundane slice-of-life or contemporary YA.
What are you going to do now?
Having two characters cook and/or share a meal is a great option.
Jane Ferry author of “Food in film: a culinary performance in communication” says:
Filmmakers [and writers] rely on food to convey character’s personalities, cultural backgrounds, social [and economic] status, and evolving personal relationships.
Your characters asking each other what they brought for lunch can give them (and the reader) so much information about the other; “like what foods they like, whether or not they're picky, if they eat anything 'weird', they could also bring a culturally different food” (Grayson Y.). The way that they respond to the question also conveys how the character feels about their current place in life; are they proud about what they're eating? Shameful because it is very plain?
If you’ve mastered subtext (please tell me how) “How is your meal?” and “Cold” can mean a ton of things.
It gives the freedom to have characters do something other than standing around, if characters have nothing to talk about you can excuse the lack of dialogue with the everlasting etiquette rule: someone does not talk while eating. Or if you really need them to say something to each other, they could maybe ask themselves what they are eating for dinner while lunching (if people think this is unrealistic my grandparents do it all the time).
Food can also serve to show characters having known each other for a long time as it is with the never-dying trope of y character knowing how x one takes their coffee.
You could also map out the progress of a relationship like “In The Mood For Love (2000)” in which to symbolize the transition of a platonic relationship to a romantic one, the leads go from eating at western dinners to sharing a plate of wonton noodles.
In intercultural relationships knowing how to cook a dish you wouldn’t have come across had you not meet the other person is another way. An example is in Jonny Garza Villa’s “Fifteen miles from the sun: a novel” when the main character meets his boyfriend’s family is through helping his mother cook gỏi cuốn that the main character gets to carved out a place for himself in his partners family.
It might also serve to unite characters that otherwise don’t like each other very much. In Garza Villa’s novel the main character has a “strained” relationship with his father however both can agree that red chilaquiles are superior to green ones (as do I). Two characters sharing a comfort food can make them reach an understanding they couldn’t just by talking.
Another example is “Midnight Dinner/Yarō Abe” a tv show by Joji Matsuoka in which lost family, friends or lovers find each other through that special meal. It talks about the nightlife of Tokyo, Japan with a focus on communal eating -and has made me fall in love with Japanese cuisine that I want to travel there just to eat- giving at the end of the episode tips on how to prepare the spotlight meal of the day.
In the end whatever your take is on real life, in fiction, the truth is that someone can not eat just for the sake of eating (food is never just food). Your characters might think so, however as with any great storytelling tool, the act of eating should serve multiple purposes.
One of those is bringing characters closer to each other. Even in SFF, the next time you outline (or just start to write) a relationship what about instead of having the leads get tortured by the villain they just cook chocolate brownies together? They can get tortured afterwards.
Ari Ochoa Petzo
is a Mexican-Venezuelan bi genderfluid writer. They like dancing to old music and history. In their free time you can find xem trying to coerce their friends to participate in another of their crazy projects.
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