I’ve spent all week talking and joking about food in fiction. One of the things I didn’t mention is how the act of eating can be used for monsters and villains. Take vampires, zombies, and cannibals. They feed on humans, which brings an odd sense of personal terror. Close your eyes and try to image something taking a bite out of your arm or sinking fangs into your neck. It’s unnerving once you let go of the ‘not possible’ concept. That is something that ‘protects’ people from getting constantly scared by the idea of being eaten. We never think it could happen to us even by a wild animal. That’s why hearing about someone getting eaten brings along a sense of primal fear.
With monsters and cannibal villains, an author should aim to push how disturbing they are. You want a reader to be afraid of these things and describing how they eat can bring that across. Many monsters are intimidating, but they don’t create fear until they actual devour someone or something. Many times this is how we remember them too. If I say Hannibal Lecter, you think cannibal very quickly. Dracula is blood, zombie is brains or flesh, and you can keep go. That might be why monsters are so much scarier than many villains. A human villain will kill you. A monster will kill you AND eat you. Not necessarily in that order too. Again, we might have a primitive part of our brain screaming how wrong it is for a human to become lunch. Or dinner depending on the time of day. We’re not really breakfast food.
It isn’t even just the man-eater idea that can use food to enhance monsters. Imagine a creature that eats metal and unleash it into New York City. It might not be after flesh, but its diet is detrimental to society. Maybe the creatures even reproduce due to what or when they eat like Gremlins and Tribbles. An enemy doesn’t always have to be a direct, physical threat to a hero. It could simply be they do what they must to survive and the hero has to find a way to keep humanity going in the face of it. This doesn’t always have to end in death of the monster either. You could have the hero find an alternate food source, new place for humans to live, or even a new location to put the monster. Think outside of the blood-filled box.
A final point on monsters and food that connects to above is that you don’t even have to make the diet a major plot point. People like to know about unique monsters and what they eat can be part of that. If your heroes come across an alien life form or a new type of dragon, you can have it eating when they find it. This can lead to need flora and fauna being created to give this fictional creatures a fictional diet. For example, the heroes come across a cat with shaggy fur, a long horn, and powerful legs for jumping. It feeds by leaping into the air and spearing a meat-like fruit from a tree with poisonous spines. You have a unique creature, a unique tree/fruit, and an interesting method of getting that food. Yet, the Narcat isn’t a threat unless you want it to be.
Guess that concludes the food topic. Now, I’m off to get pizza . . . and a side of guilt for not eating healthy.