Never has food and wine been so popular among American culture. Cable and network TV is filled with cooking, wine, and travel shows. Food and drink play very important roles in my books. I think of them as inanimate, yet intimate characters in supporting roles. They have the power to define, distinguish, and differentiate characters. They give characters character and offer cultural insights into who they are.
Example: Six misguided M.I.T. grad students form the group of antagonists, led by Nicholas Fischer Jr. and his girlfriend Staci Bevere. Nicky is a health food nut, Staci, a junk food junkie. Staci’s basic food groups consist of refined sugar, processed carbs, and coffee. Nicky won’t touch any of the three. Minor conflict is introduced just sitting down to eat together.
Food, beer, and wine make their appearance throughout Breakthrough. I can add coffee and tea to the mix too. There is usually something significant occurring in the plot when characters are eating together.
Visiting Real Restaurants and Ordering Off Menus: if you are using real establishments like I do in your books, take the time to perform your due diligence in research. Not only do I incorporate existing restaurants into my books, I also visit them to eat and drink the same meals my characters. It's a tough job but somebody has to do it.
Example: The protagonists are made up of six southern Californians led by Chase Manhattan and his girlfriend Susan Anderson. They meet at a couple of local hangouts in Laguna Beach, Hennessey’s Tavern and the Marine Room Tavern. Hennesey's is where Chase, Susan, and the rest put the pieces of the puzzle together, identify the players from M.I.T., and decide to follow through with a plan to destroy this breakthrough discovery rather than walking away.
There is an advantage to using actual establishments. My book takes place in two setting; metropolitan Boston and Orange County, CA. People who live or vacation in these places may recognize the establishments. There is a sense of familiarity that engages the reader.
Get a Feel for the Ambiance: There are numerous ways to capture the ambience of a restaurant. Eat there. Visit their Web site. I like to read actual customer reviews from the Internet. Set the ambience before the characters enter the establishment. I took this information from Ti Amo’s Web site:
“Modeled after an authentic Italian villa, the restaurant featured stone tablet menus, faux and fresco artisan-plastered walls, heavy fabrics, candelabras, and soothing lighting. Chase had made reservations for six thirty p.m.—just enough time to get a good seat by the fireplace upstairs before the restaurant filled to capacity.”
Have characters order food and wine right off the menu. Example: Chase paired Farfalle con Pollo Affumicato with sun-dried tomatoes in an oven-roasted tomato brandy cream sauce with a bottle of Tenuta dell'Ornellaia Bolgheri Ornellaia.
After fine dining at Ti Amo, Chase balances out the night with his girlfriend Susan Anderson at a not so great yet very popular Marine Room Tavern for more drinks and live music. Again, set the ambiance before they enter:
“Chase didn’t have to spend much time looking for parking in Main Beach since it was still February—off-season for tourists. He found a spot two blocks north from Marine Room Tavern. They walked arm-in-arm to keep warm as the temperature dropped to the mid-sixties. Chase led Susan up to a row of choppers, all Harleys.
“The crowd sounds loud and raucous,” Susan said as they approached the bar.
“No worries - fights are rare here. This crowd consists mainly of lawyers, doctors, accountants, and heads of companies. By day they’re successful in the business world. But after hours, they’re living a dream they’d longed for since they sat on their first motorcycle. Let’s go in.”
Pairing: You can pair restaurants with characters. If you introduce minor characters at restaurants, have them contribute in some way. Otherwise, you might end up with character clutter. Example: The waiter Antoine at Ti Amo provides Chase the one vital piece of information that helps him identify the players at M.I.T.
Caveat: DO NOT portray a real establishment (or real living person for that matter) in a negative light. We live in a very litigious society and you may be sued. Example: I originally wrote a scene were Nicky and Staci had a lousy meal served by a washed up waitress with a bad attitude at a Denny’s. I changed the name to a fictitious Jimmy’s Diner to avoid potential conflict.
I use meal time throughout Breakthrough (and Opening and Escalation) to let the characters come together, plot their schemes, attacks, and counter attacks. This is where they discover important things that help them make decisions and move forward. Whether they are eating in their kitchen, a sit down restaurant, or going through In-N-Out drive through, restaurants, food, and wine can help define characters, introduce conflict, and move the story along.
Please join me tomorrow as I visit Karen McGowan at Coming Down From The Mountain as we talk about Marketing and Promotion. As always, thanks for stopping by.
Thanks so much for coming by today, Stephen! You know how I love my food and drink in a book. I’m looking forward to reading my copy of Breakthrough.