Tuesday, June 26, 2012

I Like Sandwiches As Much As The Next Guy....

...but enough already!

For some reason, I've been reading about a lot of sandwiches lately.

No, I'm not reading menus.

No, I'm not reading cookbooks.

I'm reading a lot of mysteries and romances that seem to be obsessed with inane details like what sort of sandwiches the characters are eating for lunch. Every single meal. In the entire book. No matter what else is going on in the story. (Bad guys trying to kill them, falling madly in love, etc). Doesn't matter....we're hearing about sandwiches.

Here are times it's OK to talk about sandwiches in a book....

1. The hero owns a sandwich shop.
2. The heroine owns a sandwich shop.
3. The hero/heroine is a caterer, chef, culinary master.
4. The details about the sandwich are critical to the story...for example, the hero feeds a sandwich with anchovy paste to the villain, who has a severe allergy to anchovies, thereby dying a horrible gruesome death, and the hero saves the day. Something like that.

I don't need to know every time the characters eat a meal.

Or what they are eating.

Does it tell us something important about the character or the story?

For example, let's say the heroine is a super-model, and she sits down with the hero for a meal. He expects her to order a small salad and water. Instead she orders a huge cheeseburger and fries and a beer. That might tell us something about her, and intrigue him.

Another example....the hero is a rancher, but he orders a vegetarian meal. The heroine is shocked. Does this give us some insight about his feelings toward his job/family?

Think about the details you are including in your book. Are they important/critical to the story? If it's a foodie book, then hell yeah, include details about the food. If it's a regular novel and their meals HAVE ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH THE STORY....AT ALL!...PLEASE, I am begging you, leave out the sandwiches.

I especially see this a lot in mysteries. If the details are building a picture about the character--he's a burger and beer sort of guy, she's addicted to sweets, he drowns his sorrows in junk food, she's super anal and refuses to eat, etc etc--then it makes sense to include some of these details. But letting the reader know that the characters are getting sandwiches (or any kind of generic food) for breakfast, lunch and dinner is totally unimportant, slows down the narrative, and needs to be edited out of the book.

Please. I am freaking begging you.

And don't even get me started on potty breaks. (File under the heading Sh*t We Don't Need To Hear About In A Book).

ETA: I'm at Julia Barrett's blog today discussing a very important topic....The Never-Ending BJ. Stop by to say hi! (If you dare).

Jonesing for a smoked turkey sammie,


Steph from fangswandsandfairydust.com said...

I like to know they went for a sandwich and not a five course meal. It may not be a big tell but it does say something. Sadly, the mention of food often makes me hungry. And wine and cocktails make me want them.

And, using the facilities, sometimes it's TMI but otherwise I think aren't they human? Now, in the PNR/UF world, the answer is that sometimes they aren't human. But knowing they use the loo, at least use it, NOT what they do there (unless it's an alien baby) can help define the person, or a medical condition.

Penny Watson said...

Hi Steph! You are more forgiving than I am...I really don't want to hear about every meal and potty break. I just assume the characters are eating and "pottying" and I don't need to hear about it.

Although I did love the food descriptions in Eloisa James' book Paris in Love. :^)

Steph from fangswandsandfairydust.com said...

Well, not every morsel, or each time they use the loo, or what number it is.

I haven't read that but talked to her about it a bit. You'd have to talk food in Paris.

Penny Watson said...

Heeeeee....yes. We don't need to hear "I did #2!" Ha!

Paris in Love is WONDERFUL. You should def. read it. And drink a glass of wine while reading....and also maybe have a baguette on hand, too. ;^) And cheese.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with you Penny. No gratuitous use of food or other flowery descriptions - please. I do like well-placed details when they add to the story. I've noticed this in critiques I've done and I kind of think this is a fall back for writers who aren't deep enough in their characters heads because if they were they'd realized that no describes stuff in their mind to the nth degree. I see yummy food, I admire it for 2 seconds and down the hatch it goes! But maybe that is just me :)

Julia Barrett said...

I agree the gratuitous use of superfluous detail - whether it's potty breaks or food - is just boring. Unless you're writing a book about a chef. Oops! I did that!
Sometimes a bathroom is necessary but I don't need to know every time the character engages in an ADL, an activity of daily living.
It's assumed.
Are sandwiches in now?

Penny Watson said...

Casey....I def. see more of this in mystery series, for some strange reason. There are plenty of mystery writers who spend a lot of time w/ boring extraneous details....every meal, every errand! (going to the dry cleaner, etc)...It makes me think the book could be edited down by at least 50%.

Penny Watson said...

Julia....I have run into the "sandwich" problem in 4 different books I've read in the last month. They seem to be extremely popular.


Unknown said...

Note to self: Must go back and cut the sandwich eating scene from my three wips, in case Penny reads them. ;)

Penny Watson said...

Amber----Haaaaa! You're joking, right? (FYI, I ate a really kick-ass smoked turkey sammie today).


Heidenkind said...

Ha! I just started a book where, on page 2, they start comparing food in Nebraska to food in Chicago. Do not need to know!

Penny Watson said...

Tasha....I'm just wondering where the editors are for this stuff. Hello? Hello? Where are you?

Handy Man, Crafty Woman said...

Too funny. I get tired of too many restaurant scenes, myself. Sandwich or otherwise. I read a book recently where the characters ate out for nearly EVERY. SINGLE. MEAL.

In my WIP, I do have my characters eating a big lobstah meal. Lobstahs & bee-yahs. But in general, I try to stay away from restaurant scenes. They can be tricky. And I'll be sure to watch their sandwich consumption. ;-)