See how easily you can add realism to your world with treats

Are you ready to work on your story some more? No? Would you do it for a Scooby Snack?

Today at Scribe Forge, we’re talking about tasty treats, because even fictional characters enjoy snacks. Let’s start with the classic reminder that your fictional snacks can be a major plot point, like Prince Gristle of the Trolls series attempting to eat the protagonists, or a subtle detail that serves mainly to enrich the worldbuilding, like the aforementioned Scooby Snacks.

In real life, snacks range from the healthiest of celery sticks to the most hideous of garishly colored, high fructose corn syrup monstrosities. Everyone has their reasoning when it comes to personal food choices, so think about how your characters would select their snacks.

Surely, your highly trained fighter who relies on their body as their weapon would nourish it properly… but then again, if they’ve been burning calories by slaying dragons all day, they might just wolf down whatever food is the most readily available. Think of Lina Inverse and Goury from Slayers, who are living garbage disposals. But they’re like that because swords and sorcery works up an appetite, and who knows when they’ll come to the next town with a restaurant? 

Whatever your characters decide to munch on, make sure it’s a decision made in-character and based on what would be attainable in their world. A character who lives in a food desert or has rather little money probably wouldn’t have access to decently nutritious foods, no matter how good their intentions or how strong their willpower. That is, a character’s (or a real person’s) food choices are limited by what they can get their hands on.

Foods, especially treats, are sometimes oddly moralized. A princess being groomed as the prettiest princess in the land might catch heck for indulging in a sugary snack. Then again, a sugary snack might be associated with celebration - such as at a carnival or wedding. When your characters choose to eat a snack and what they choose to eat will depend on what their culture has taught them about food. This speaks to your character’s entire culture, and hence, your worldbuilding.

Another restriction on snacks are ethical and religious ideals. Does your world have a set of rules about food that only certain groups of people follow? As in, is there an equivalent of food standards like the real life rules of Kosher and Halal? If you write religious food restrictions into your story, remember that they are based on something out there in the world. The rules of Kosher and Halal are based on cleanliness. 

In other words, the rules about food aren’t random, so yours shouldn’t be either. What does your fictional culture value? How do those beliefs affect what foods the people consider okay to eat? What’s it like for a character following those rules if they go to a foreign country where no one else recognizes those restrictions?

Food and culture go hand in hand. Consider the Great Cake from Brian Jacques’ Redwall series. Or any of their feasts, really. The food in that series is as much about a community gathering as it is about getting enough to eat. Do your characters eat together? Do they cook for one another? How does that feed into (pun intended) their relationships?

Think about which foods are considered everyday snacks and which ones are special. This may have nothing to do with accessibility, ingredients, or nutritional content and be entirely about the society’s connotations. For example, a muffin and a cake are made of essentially the same ingredients, but if you eat a slice of cake with your coffee every day, people are going to wonder if you’re okay.

And all that’s just for regular foods that are only, well, foods. If you’re writing a universe with magic, maybe foods have a dramatic effect on their devourer. Think of the “eat me, drink me” tea snacks from Lewis Caroll’s Alice in Wonderland.

One more thing to keep in mind is that fictional foods have the potential to become iconic in setting the tone for your world. How many food bloggers out there have tried to recreate fictional foods? A quick web search churns out a bevy of listicles wherein people count down the fictional foods they’d love to taste. Interestingly, these range from the realistic (such as the Krabby Patty, the Reptar Bar, and the Naco from Spongebob Squarepants, Rugrats, and Kim Possible, respectively) to the completely unfamiliar (like Klah, from the Dragonriders of Pern series or Subtraction Stew from The Phantom Tollbooth). Maybe you can come up with something your audience will crave - even if they’ve already had second breakfast.

So don’t forget the snacks. They’re an important part of any world.

Learn more with The Essential Worldbuilding Blueprint and Workbook.