Think Aloud explores book-related discussions encompassing reading, writing, blogging, and perhaps newsworthy content. The focus is to push the boundaries, stretch the mind, and encourage dialogue within this community. Let’s all think out loud.
Lack of Sustenance
is the True Antagonist
If you don’t satisfy the bare minimum of physiological sustenance then you’re as good as dead.
Disclaimer: Let me preface this by saying that I am a foodie. #nojudgment.
Why is it that so often all the stories we read have heroes and heroines who carry out the plot without a single thought of feeding themselves? Is it assumed? Do they eat between the lines and chapters when we’re not looking? Or maybe there’s just no discernible need for authors to put moments of replenishment because readers don’t necessary care to read about it. With any reader of stories, we hope that any character we’re invested in is able to get through dire predicaments, to defeat the villain or to successfully find oneself when things seem stacked against them; but the battlefield is rarely taken internally to keep themselves mentally and physically stable, aware, and alive.
It’s not that I’m asking for there to be feasts every chapter or for the story to keep me entertained with food that would actually (probably) make me enraged at my own situational hunger when reading but rather the idea that consideration should be given towards meeting the necessary building blocks of living. Sure, we can take air and breathing for granted (unless oxygen is a commodity and part of the novel) but to go page-in and page-out without food and water sounds like our protagonist should be teetering on life and death. Mind you that each person’s ability to survive without nourishment is on a case-by-case basis, so it’s not entirely impossible for those we root for to make it to the end of the story without filling up their internal tanks—it’s just unrealistic is all.
To further tangent this idea, let’s take a step back before a book begins. As we go into a read, rarely do we ever consider the possibility of a prequel (regardless of one existing or not) being part of the story where they in-take an enormous amount of food and water to be able to last the length of the novel—because what’s the point in that? It is very sound rationale to assume that since they are [ideally] present when the novel begins, they have been undeniably living up to that point; sleeping, eating, what have you (unless otherwise indicated as the story progresses; re: back story). So why is it that when a story takes off there’s limited detail regarding a fundamental instinct of survival?
Is hunger and malnutrition not an equally (if not more) terrifying antagonist to the plot?
It seems that by suddenly thrusting these characters into a narrative, they’re either able to go beast mode and make it to the end of the novel without reenergizing themselves or they’re simply nomming without our knowledge. Yet by the same measure, it’s not apparent to me that readers would care for an entire play-by-play. Oh, I have an itch on my arm so I scratch it. Not even I would care for this precision of detailing, so it’s rather difficult to think that other readers would be interested in this as well. Does this fact then transfer over to characters refueling themselves as well? Are readers just genuinely uninterested in petty details that go into keeping our heroes and heroines alive and sane, or are we simply just taking the whole concept of food and water for granted?
Be that as it may, food for what its worth can elevate a story if seamlessly integrated in a way that becomes part of the narrative and dialogue and not much as an afterthought. The value in any semblance of sustenance isn’t simply food for the sake of food but rather a nod to the fact that they’re a living and breathing entity on the page, and so it’s only fair (and realistic) if they get hungry and thirsty as well. Readers all want their characters to strive for success (at least, most of the time) but we should also instinctively hope for their well-being; and that often begins with satisfying their physiological needs as well.
I hope that the title of this think aloud wasn’t misleading in any way. I tried to capture the essence of what I was rambling about…so I hope it’s okay with you. But geez, I haven’t done one of these in forever.
So tell me:
What did you think about this completely groundless rant?
Assuming no food is mentioned in the book, have you ever stopped to wonder if the characters you root for stopped to recharge, or are you just engrossed in the happenings of the story?
How do you feel about food being incorporated into the narrative? Should it be in it at all?
(Full disclosure: I didn’t know my tagline was an actual coined term. It’s apparently an existing methodology that somewhat lends itself to the purposes of these posts. So as much as I thought of this clever name, I shouldn’t take credit for it.)
11 thoughts on “[Think Aloud] – #2 – Lack of Sustenance is the True Antagonist”
I think I’m usually too intrigued by the story to pay attention to food. But now that I’ve read your post, I will be thinking about food in books for a while. Now I’m hungry, lol. Interesting post.
Haha, I must certainly apologize if you get hungry during your reading time.
I think it was just that with the past year in the dystopian subgenre (as a focus group, at least), I swear these kids are dodging bullets and doing all these strenuous activities that one would expect to drain them of energy…but they never seem to ever take time to recharge the electrolytes or fill up on some grub. So I’m just perplexed (and interested in) why there’s a void in these areas when a survivalist mentality seems to be at the forefront of it all.
(Or maybe I was just truly hungry during times of reading–but we’ll never know!)
For me, if the book is say dystopian or scifi and one of it’s main themes are water/food shortage then I want to read about it. Or if they’re in a tough situation like in a desert for miles and miles, you’re bound to have the character discuss food/water. Also in (epic) fantasy; their world has got to have different food and meals compared to our world such as Lembras bread in LotR, and/or massive banquets or something like in Game of Thrones. Other than that, I don’t mind nor notice the lack of food/water being mentioned.
I think food/water shortages should be assumed as part of most dystopian worlds (or at least they’re relatively true 95% of the time). It’s just so perplexing that this stuff gets skipped over–or maybe I’m just extremely picky hahaha.
I love it when different worlds introduce us to new foods or just a new look on the traditional! I think epic/high fantasy has done right with this food situation compared to most other genres actually; at least, that’s what I’ve seen from my limited library.
I think there’ll always be a fissure in the realism which literature attempts to convey.That’s why besides it is called ‘Fiction’.I also think that literature aims to be idealistic,and so cannot spotlight these feelings which are too prosaic and which make life devoid of a certain ”dreamlikeness”.
To the list of ‘needs’ which literature omits can also be added the need to use the loo and the need to have a haircut!
Haha,it’s only in Dragon Ball that I remember Vegeta explaining why San Goku’s hair never grows.Yet again,there is a loophole in his explanation: he didn’t say why his hair and the others’ do not grow either!
I think I just wish that there was more of a consideration for these mundane details that don’t seem to add much value in the realm of fiction but when genres and situations come into play, there could be a viable situation for it and it usually isn’t there.
You’re definitely on the money with the fact that we’re often void of these elements based upon losing the spark of why we intended to read each unique book. But hey, if I see a character complain endlessly about having long hair or having terrible bowel movements–hit the can or get a shave going!
I am a huge foodie so I definitely play attention to what characters eat or not eat and I do find it annoying when there is no mention of eating
FEED YOUR CHARACTERS, AUTHORS! (same, I hate when actors “fake eat” in tv dramas – like they have this fantastic looking FOOD before them and they keep poking it or flat out ingore it)
I knoooooow right? My heart dies a little bit when it’s likely that they’ll discard the foods on television.
But seriously, as someone who reads into many, many (many), dystopians–there’s so much “survivalist” mentalities going around but none of which include drinking water as a bare minimum. Le sigh.