Often I read fantasy novels that contain a lot of traveling whether it’s by foot, horse or sea. Your characters need to eat and one way to pull your reader out of your fantasy world is to write something so strange or unbelievable that they pause to wonder how that can be. One place that typically happens in a fantasy novel is when food is mentioned.
Below are three rules to avoid these mistakes and add some solid, commonsense detail to the food in your fantasy novel.
Readers are prepared for the other world, food choices and eating habits may be different there. But everyone is familiar with food so you should at least have the food choices make sense.
Writers of fantasy novels too often ask us to believe that a roadside meal is cooked in the time it takes to water the horses or set up camp or that fresh fruit is available at all times – even the winter. Here are three rules to keep your reader engaged in the story and not pulled out by unbelievable cooking.
- Consider how long it does take to cook the meal. Take rabbit stew for instance. A quick look on the Internet shows that in a modern kitchen, it takes two hours to cook and that doesn’t include prep time.
Yet, a stew is pretty standard fare in many fantasy novels for many traveling heroes. Instead, have a cooked rabbit slow-turned on the open fire.
- Think about how much room the food takes up in the travel bags. You already have your character carrying a tent or bedroll. They have clothes, weapons, and other items not to mention the pots, knives, and plates needed for mealtime. Then you still have food to add to that list of travel essentials. Look at the size of a saddlebag and consider what will fit in there. Can they carry a day’s worth of food or a week’s worth? Even when spread among several riders, you may have to consider a few pack animals to help carry the load but remember that even then they will not be carrying a month’s supply of provisions or probably a very wide-spread fare.
- Make your food choices realistic. Don’t have people eating beef if you don’t have cows in your world or lots of fresh fish if they are not near a lake, river or ocean. The poor people are going to have a limited, mostly bland diet, probably growing what they eat. Spices most likely are very rare and expensive though herbs are probably more abundant.
Salt would be used not only for flavoring but preserving meat and fish. If your characters are traveling a long distance, consider packing salted meat for the nights your characters cannot hunt for a fresh meal.
Eating is such a big part of life that you can’t ignore it in your novel. Of course, you need not focus on it unless it advances the plot somehow such as a grain shortage or winter. But do take the time to learn something about some of the foods that you mention so that you don’t jar the reader out of the story with something improbable.
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