Last week I wrote about how I wanted to see more economics in genre stories like fantasy and science fiction, to see it be more part of good worldbuilding and plotting. Economics affects our world, so I figure why not fictional worlds? Besides, adding economics to your world makes it richer and more believable.
So in this "Go Farther" I want to suggest something else that is often missed in genre fiction and world building. Something near and dear to our hearts, or organs slightly lower. Something you may even be indulging in as you read this.
Think about the food you eat. Why do you eat what you do? Tradition? Diet? Habit?
Where does this food come from? How does it get to you?
Why is it prepared the way it is? What reasons are there for the spices, the preparation, one ingreedient over the other?
What is the history of it? What is the culture behind it?
Now think of asking all those questions you can ask about food in a setting you're building for a story, from an era of magic and mysticism to far-flung futures. Each of those questions – and others – enriches your setting.
Food is a mix of nutrition, economics, culture, history, habit, and mystery. We're just so used to the foods we eat and all things associated with them we miss these wonderful details. However when you become aware of all of the amazing aspects of food, all the things we take for granted, you suddenly have a gateway to writing a much more enriching setting.
Writing about food in your setting also makes your writing more visceral, and thus easier to relate to. How characters react to food will trigger sympathetic reactions in your readers – who can't understand a good craving or a love of a home cooked meal? The love of a given cuisine or food is something we can all understand, for how many of us like a particular ethnic food or given fruit or candy? Writing about food is writing about something that we can all relate to – and that improves the exprience for your reader.
So, sure you're busy designing armies and star systems, spells and spacecraft. But take a moment to ask what breakfast is like for your lead, or what your characters eat when they're stuck on Delta Gamma 12. You might find a richer setting – and ways to help readers empathize with and connect with the characters.
Want inspiration? Go watch Bizarre Foods with the charming Andrew Zimmerman (I especially reccomend any of his experiences in Asia). You'll see a lot of things you consider bizarre that seem normal elsewhere – and some of the reasons people eat the way they do around the world.