It’s Thanksgiving in the US, and in between stirring my cranberry sauce and basting the turkey, I’m writing this post. The unique thing about Thanksgiving, as far as holidays go, is that it’s only about food, friends, and family, and our gratitude for those things. There is no other agenda – no gifts to buy, no atonements to make, no goals to set. Just a gathering around a table.
As a writer, I can’t help but think that everyone around my table has a story, and, we have a connection to each other, a scene in each other’s story if you will, that brings us together around this table. As writers, we observe – we create worlds, we populate them with characters, and we send those characters on adventures filled with love, failure, heartbreak, tragedy, mistakes, and more. What better place to find inspiration than our own back yard, or our own holiday table as the case may be!
Today’s research assignment, should you wish to participate, is building an inner world for the characters in our novel. Often, world-building for our story, especially if we are writing speculative fiction, is focused on the macro-world. But once you’ve established the big picture, it’s really the details that bring color and life to your story, and many of these details will focus around your characters themselves. In keeping with today’s Thanksgiving theme, let’s focus on food, friends, and family.
Who’s sitting around the table?
Who is hosting the event? Who shows up late and who is always meticulously on time? Will cousin Tommy and his new bride bicker during dinner or are they blissfully fawning all over each other? Did quirky Aunt Mary bring her own bottle of ketchup? Noting details and idiosyncrasies about people, and skillfully working them into our writing brings flavor and life to our scenes.
Who’s missing, and why?
It may be just as relevant to consider who isn’t at the table. Is someone sick? Is there a family feud happening, and now someone is ostracized? Relationships, good and bad, healthy and unhealthy, bring depth to our character’s story. Events move a plot line forward, but it’s the relationships that add complexity and meaning.
What are they eating?
Focusing on food will help us engage all our senses to help fill out a scene. Did our character burn the roof of his mouth stealing a potato out of the skillet? Is mom’s chocolate cake still the smoothest, sweetest treat he’s ever tasted. When our main character walks in, does the smell of cooking turkey trigger a childhood memory? We may never use or need these details, but training ourselves to observe and describe our surroundings with multiple senses makes for a richer experience in our writing.
Remember, most of this information won’t make it into your story at all, and some of it will only be shown in passing, but these tidbits that you as the author know about your setting and characters create depth and authenticity in your storytelling. Happy Thanksgiving!