Updated: Jan 15
Create delicious copy nobody can get enough of, using these tips in the final post of my #FoodWritingFestival series
In my previous blog post, I spelled out my favourite food moments in literature, followed by a (hopefully) delicious excerpt from my book, PiKu & ViRu. (Buy/download, read, and review my baby here; it’s FREE on Kindle Unlimited!)
If you’re wondering how I wrote the food scenes and descriptions in my novel and how you can come up with your own, I’ve lined up some quick must-dos for you.
Obviously, I cannot speak on behalf of the master storytellers featured in that blog post. But I can share the methods that have worked for me and will also likely do for you if you practise them regularly. Here are the 5 things you need to do if you wish to nail food writing and paint toothsome pictures using the power of words.
Don’t try to impress
Do you know the #1 reason readers can’t get enough of an author’s writing and always polish it off in one go and even come back for second helpings or more?
It’s the writer’s uniqueness—their distinct personality and voice—that they bring to the table.
That’s why it’s essential if you aspire to be a writer that you speak up your mind and stay true to your likes and dislikes.
If you feel a much-celebrated delicacy isn’t worth the hype, while others around you can’t stop raving about it, don’t hesitate to say you found it lukewarm.
Yes, have a healthy regard for the painstaking process that goes into making a meal. But if the end result isn’t up to your taste, feel free to admit it.
Here’s a tip to hone your straightforwardness muscles. Pay attention to the first thoughts that pop in your head at the sight, mention, or taste of a dish.
Is it a simple adjective—“gobsmacking,” “out-of-this-world,” “jhakaas”?
Or do you blurt out a popular meme or one-liner from a movie or TV show?
Or are you reminded of a fictional food experience from a book or film (say, the Hogwarts feast)?
No matter what they are or in what language or form, jot down your thoughts somewhere. They’ll come in handy when it’s time to write your story.
If you’re worried about appearing irreverent or offensive, you can always show your work to a friend or editor for an opinion. Or come up with a workaround without the need to alter your original thought. But please try to stick to your take. The only thing you need to get right here is to convey it respectfully.
I’d highly recommend Anthony Bourdain’s works for your practice in this department, especially his tell-all memoir Kitchen Confidential. I love how the late chef never minced his words while serving his opinions, and at the same time, retained his humility. You can strike this balance only if you’re a good human being, so yes, that’s the first thing we should all aim for. Change, after all, happens from the inside out. Do read the 50 business lessons I’ve gleaned from this book here.
Use your imagination—and feed it, too
I seriously wish to have JK Rowling levels of imagination—especially whenever I come across all those gorgeous food descriptions in Harry Potter!
Now, I’m not sure about the process she uses to hone her creativity, nor do I think following it is going to bring me anywhere even remotely close to her levels of awesomeness.
But I can elaborate on the one I swear by for whatever level I’m at. Check out my post on creativity exercises here and apply them right away. The age-old advice to “think like a kid,” too, is applicable in this regard.
And yes, read and even write fiction. Not only would you end up filling up your reserves of language and imagination. You’d also be able to do as much amount of justice to your routine writing job or gigs. You could maintain a swipe file of your favourite food descriptions, but given the time and effort required, I suggest you don’t push yourself to do this.
In addition, staying updated about the food industry through long-form food articles, trend pieces, newsletters, books, blogs, etc., is a highly useful pursuit. You’d end up exercising your opinion-forming muscles this way.
And most importantly, hit your kitchen, shop for ingredients (preferably at a store rather than online if possible), learn to bargain, inventory your supplies, ensure cleanliness and hygiene, and of course, whip up as many dishes as you can. There’s no better way to understand the world of food than by managing and helming your own cooking. Ditch the need for perfection, and enjoy the process.
Trust your gut
Yes, plotting a story is important—so is research.
But after a point, you need to let go and allow your inner wisdom and imagination to take over. It knows better than your logical mind, so speed-writing without pausing to edit is a great, time-saving way to get your first draft done. Trust that your imagination and subconscious mind will come up with all the meaty details, drama, conflict, and emotional elements needed in your food story to keep your readers engaged.
Remember the rule: “Dump now, plot and edit later.”
May I also recommend mind-mapping for your plotting? I’ve used this technique for a few chapters of PiKu & ViRu, and I’m amazed at how it simplifies the process even more!
List out your most memorable food experiences and ask yourself why they’re special
When writing food scenes, it pays to go back in time and revisit your favourite food experiences and the factors that make them endure in your memory. Where did you have these experiences? When? With whom—or were you all alone? Did they involve home-cooked food or restaurant meals? Were they a lavish, expensive affair or simple, humble street-side fare? Get as many details as possible. Don’t forget to jot down the sensory information, too—sight, colours, aromas, tastes, textures, and the sound of the bite or sip.
It’s also important to note that bad, unpleasant food experiences tend to elicit more vivid descriptions from us than the good, epic ones. List them down, too. You never know how they’d go on to shape your next narrative.
Don’t force yourself to have certain kinds of food experiences, especially those that are out of your town, country, budget, or comfort levels right now. Trust that life’s bringing you and taking you to the exact ones you need. Remember: Every food story is special. Of course, you should also visualise your dream meal and where you’d love to have it. Let your imagination go wild for this one!
Practise these writing prompts
If you feel stuck in your writing, what’s better than writing prompts to unstick you? Here are 170+ of them, so you won’t have a dearth of writing ideas. Mix and match to come up with a unique food story of your own. Try to write at least five days a week (I write for six, with Mondays off).
What are the tips and techniques you swear by for crafting food literature of your own? Share them all in the comments below. I love hearing from you about your feedback and experiences!