Want to write the kind of food-based personal essay that delights an editor and an audience?
Of course you do. So for research, get The Best Food Writing 2016. I’ve paged through a few beautifully-written entries, but it will take several delicious hours to devour the whole anthology. (Disclosure: An essay I wrote was included.)
What makes a personal essay eligible in this year’s edition? Says Editor Holly Hughes, she chose pieces based on trends, those that reacted against trends and food snobbery, those based on the foods we eat together as a family, and essays about the human connection.
Right there, I hope you got lots of ideas for stories. Now, on to the craft of writing.
What can you do to up your personal essay game? Implement these eight writing techniques:
1. A strong voice. Your voice is what differentiates you on the page. It’s your personality, a way to make your story unique from everyone else’s. Therefore, if everyone else is writing about kale, a strong voice will make your story different.
2. Sensual details. Go beyond the five senses of taste, touch, smell, smell and sight to describe food. Describe body language, for example, to establish a subject’s character or state of mind.
3. Eccentricities, oddities, or obsessions. It’s what makes your story different and relatable to readers. Bring on the quirk, be it your obsession with kombocha brewing or why you love both your auntie’s tacos and Taco Bell’s.
4. Messiness and complexity. Because readers are smart, let them draw their own conclusions without hitting them over the head. Avoid stating the obvious. Include a little ambiguity, without being confusing. Doing so will draw readers in.
5. Present conflict and contrast. That’s what makes a personal essay worth reading. A struggle drives readers forward through the text to the end. Resolve the issues you present, to some extent, at the end. Use contrast as a construct to build interest, such as the previous example about tacos.
6. Humor. While the story could be about a tragedy or something sad, it can still contain humor, whether snarky, silly, goofy, slapstick, clever, or wry.
7. Emotion. Let emotion build up. The most effective stories are when a character reminds readers of themselves or someone they were close to. Expose the tender spots. Get in close.
8. Strong characters. People love strength and bravery in the main characters of a personal essay. If the story’s about you, you want readers to root for you. Stand up for something! Because you can make the food you’re writing about a character, it could be the star of the story, too.
Most of all, keep writing drafts and work on these techniques to deepen your piece and expand your readers’ responses to it. For more on voice, see:
(Disclosure: This post contains an affiliate link.)