Grandma’s Been Cooking

Imagine a scene in which company arrives for a family meal. Grandma insisted that she’d fix all the food, thank you very much. The problem is that she’s a notoriously horrible cook. She’s mastered an edible apple pie, a tolerable beef stroganoff, and a passable version of green bean casserole.

Perhaps Grandma’s a sous chef at a three-star restaurant. Her entrees are amazing, but are made from ingredients so obscure that the grandkids won’t touch therm. Because everything requires meticulous planning, she spends days preparing. Meanwhile she neglects cleaning the house, showering, setting the table. There are no drinks for kids or adults, but plenty of escargot.

What type of cook is your character’s grandmother? What does through his mind whenever Grandma invites him for dinner? Does he bring funeral potatoes over her protests? Does he pick up a lemon meringue pie from the bakery on his way even though Grandma’s feelings will be hurt?

Your task is to write the story. Begin with the invitation. Does it arrive by snail mail, email or phone? What emotions pass through your character’s mind when he responds? What does he do to prepare? Draw out the scene from beginning to end, showing us the party, the dialogue, the emotions of all invited.

This could be a humorous story or a heartbreaking one depending upon how you set the stage.

Have fun with this one.

Food Favorites

We eat. So do our characters. We have favorite foods, go-to foods, emotional eating foods and so on. So do our characters.

At some point in any story, our characters must consume a meal. Sometimes it’s fast food, sometimes fine dining, sometimes in a chain restaurant, sometimes in a family-owned establishment. No matter the place, they have to eat.

Your task is to write a scene in which your character eats something. To do this, first construct a list of preferred foods and places where these items can be purchased. Make sure to include a variety of establishments so that your character has options.

Once you have your list, narrow it down to two choices. Any more than that and the scene becomes unwieldy.

Put your character in motion. At some point he has to stop to eat. He can dine alone or with others. It can be a hot date or an office gathering. She might go out with friends or eat with family.

When you write, remember to have your character think about the food. This includes taste, smell, texture and feel. If she eats something slimy, write about it. If it’s crunchy, describe it. If it has a strong odor, include that detail.

Also consider your character’s reaction to the food. What if he tries something for the first time and it nauseates him? Write about it. What if the meat is tough as leather? What does she do with it?

Have fun with this one.

Socioeconomic Status

            How much money someone has affects the things that he does, thinks, and says. It impacts future dreams and the things that she hopes to accomplish.

For example, a person who grows up in a wealthy family has everything that she could ever possibly want. Nice clothes, a comfortable bed, good food and all the electronics that one could possibly want. He may attend a private school with other entitled children so never knows what it’s like to have class disrupted by unruly students or may have never witnessed a lunchtime brawl.

This character grows into an adult with distinct advantages in terms of status, education and outlook. He has experienced nothing but the best and desires to maintain that status.

Then consider the low income child who grows up in a tiny studio apartment with eight family members. Who is often hungry and wears ragged hand-me-down shoes and clothes. Who falls ill frequently or has to accompany non-English speaking relatives to appointments to act as translator and so misses great amounts of school.

Perhaps she moves around a lot, from one shelter to another, and so schools change weekly. Most shelters are in low income neighborhoods so she does not have access to modern technology in terms of computer labs, WiFi and calculators. School lunches are adequate, probably free, but not delicious. She knows of students who come to school high on drugs, who sell their bodies and who are bellicose.

Think about how these differing early lives affect how your character behaves in your story.

Your task is to decide into which socioeconomic group your character belongs. Then make a bullet-point list of the structures in this person’s life, beginning with the home environment. Consider size of the home, family living there, quality of food and clothes, and what possessions the character owns. Include on your list the things the character sees in his daily life, as he walks down the street, rides in a car or bus, goes into a store, eats at a soup kitchen or restaurant.

Once you have completed your list, write a short scene in which these elements come into play.

This is not an easy task.

Have fun with this one.

Fill in the Details

Characters do not walk around in a void, naked, in empty rooms. You must clothe them, feed them and have them interact with objects.

When you create a character, one thing you might consider doing is looking at images online, finding people in the same age group, same size, same coloring. Look for clothing styles that fit the character’s profile. For example, you might not see a 60 year old woman baring her midriff and wearing skin-tight jeans, but she might wear a track suit with t-shirt, a cashmere sweater over a loose cotton top and black flats.

Print up a selection of clothes and put them min an album. Refer to them often, but don’t spend time in your story describing everything that the character wears. Occasional references keep the reader grounded.

Think about the houses or apartments in which your character lives or visits. It must have furnishings, right? Considering your character’s level of income and lifestyle, place chairs, tables, desks, curtains, bed and so on. To get ideas, once again, look online and print up what you see.

When your character enters these places, what does she see? Chrome and leather modernist chairs? Glass-topped coffee table? Mahogany end tables? Describe them once, but not necessarily as a line-by-line listing. Instead, infuse the story with little details throughout, sharing something new and refreshing each time.

Your task is to create a series of scenes in which your character walks into a room, looks around, and takes in the view. Describe what he sees, giving detail sufficient enough to paint the picture for the reader.

Do this over and over. Dress her in different outfits. Have her walk into a doctor’s office or a IT company for a job interview.

Have him sit down to a meal, and when it is presented, actually look at the food before him. Describe it, thinking of colors, textures, arrangement, taste.

Have fun with this.

Good luck.