On writing

What your characters eat on their epic journey in your novel

I love reading about the practicalities in writing fantasy, like how far horses can really travel in a day.

Gillian Polack has done a similar thing with food in her guest blog Food is Just Fantasy Without Substance over at Voyager Online. Gillian talks about carrying pots and pans, and what travellers might eat along the way. Interesting stuff.

I know that even when I pack food for a long car trip how tedious it is and how much extra planning is involved. I do a 500km round trip roughly once a month to see my mother, who lives in the country. I love to take my own food, but the effort it requires to prepare and pack, and then remember to wash everything when you get home adds considerable time to the trip. Many times I just can’t be bothered, and buy food on the way.

After she talks about packing and cooking on the road, Gillian goes on to mention stews at those deserted way-out inns that our travellers always seem to land at, and how it just won’t happen. And I agree with everything she says.

Notwithstanding that, the poor old stew gets a pretty rough run in fantasy novels. It is generally considered capital ‘B’ Bad, and the sign of an absolute novice if you make your characters eat stew.

Is it really so bad?

I think of what I feed people here when I have a house full of visitors, and it’s generally some form of pot meal that I can cook up and serve out as required, particularly if people aren’t all eating at the same time. Stew is good, or pasta with a sauce I can leave heating on the stove.

So in a busy inn where lots of people drop in for food at various times, stews could be appropriate. They’re quick, because they’re keeping warm by the side of the stove. They’re easy, because there’s no extra cooking required, all you have to do is serve it onto a plate. They’re convenient, because you can cook them early before the crowds of drinkers arrive from their long journeys looking for beds.

So yes, the humble stew is not a good traveller, although you can use it under certain circumstances. Meantime, I might pop over to Gillian’s site and ask for that cubed soup she mentioned. It sounds fun. Like an old fashioned stock cube.

And for our next fantasy when the characters do a journey—they’re taking a frying pan, a billy and a (not very big) bag of flour.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *