Sunday, December 13, 2009

What do your characters do for you?

I can't sew to save my life, yet I understand the entire process and can write about it convincingly for my novel. I credit this to my journalism background. The ability to study something and convey it to someone else is a special skill.

But sometimes our characters teach us skills.

Sure, if you do research you may learn some knowledge you never had, but can your characters really teach life skills?

I think so.

First example: I never cooked meat. Our meals at home were vegetarian, sometimes vegan. I could not sully my hands with animal flesh. But then I came upon a scene where √Čtienne cooks... and he can cook... He learned to cook when his wife divorced him. No one would ever believe that an affluent French male in his forties would prepare a meal of broccoli pasta with ricotta salata or Hungarian style paprika tempeh or vegetable stir fry with toasted sesame seeds or hearty macaroni and cheese with sundried tomatoes.

In order to decide what he would make for himself, I had to cook meat. I experimented with beef burgundy stew, pepper steak with brandy cream sauce, chicken in lemon butter sauce, and peppered chicken with rosemary. (And some less 'offensive' lovely desserts like tarte tatin and honeyed fruit in white wine sauce.)

Second example: Basilie is brilliant with numbers. In the 80s, she had a stunning career as a corporate raider. In the 90s, she worked as an investment banker and wealth manager. Educated in the U.S. and abroad, a stellar performance on the French bac, and she speaks five languages-- but she's only fluent in four (French, English, Spanish, German). She has yet to master her Japanese.

Basilie is helping me survive economics this semester. Econ is far from exciting, and my introductory course is not hard, but Basilie sometimes motivates me to study and do a good job.

And I need that right now.

My final is Tuesday.

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