My daughter, Hilary, is my alpha reader when I’m writing a novel. I recently sent her the first three chapters of my latest work in progress, and after all the required ego building; ‘Yes, nice, very good. I like the character and story,’ she proceeded to put me in my place.
“Mom, what’s with all the eating?”
I’m wondering how she can see through the phone to the coconut muffin I’m holding, but I hide it behind my back anyway. “Not you, mom. The girl in your story! She’s always cooking. It slows down the action. Remember that she’s terrified and alone.”
My first instinct was to feel defensive. “That’s why she eating so much. She needs provisions to help her handle the horror of her situation. You can stress eat in the apocalypse, you know.” Silence on the phone.
When I go to a movie where the characters are constantly running and hiding, all I can think is, when are they going to have a meal? Or go to the bathroom? I find it hard not to worry about their wellbeing. Never mind that the enemy soldier, alien or dinosaur may be closing in. When’s lunch?
I have five sisters and one brother and I swear I’m the only one who thinks this way. The sisters are like corset wearing Southerners from the 1800’s, who never have appetites. “I think I’m off my food right now,” they’ll say thoughtfully, pushing their half full plates away. I stare at them in bewilderment. I’ve never pushed a plate away in my life. And my brother seems to burn 1000 calories an hour, but not me, so that’s why I have to exercise so religiously. (Okay, maybe I’m not that diligent, but I try.) My inner tube threatens to become an outer tire, and I’m certainly not going to miss a meal or a snack on it’s behalf.
Do you ever wonder why those characters in movies or novels who never eat, sleep or go to the bathroom don’t discuss it with the other people on the run? “Oops, I just crapped myself. I should have hid out in that gas station bathroom.”
Dear reader, you’ve read my potty stories about the long road north. There is no bush, ditch or vacant lot that won’t do in a pinch. So I really don’t understand these characters. I see my daughter’s point of view that you can’t break the tension with mundane things, but let’s have some believability. Science fiction shows are particularly bad for this. A character goes days before finding a tiny, foil wrapped piece of thousand year old dried meat, makes a face eating it, then is back on the run. Really?
Okay, yes, perhaps my girl is cooking too much. But like me, she has food insecurity. Not the kind that actually exists in the world where real people starve every day, but the kind that’s in your head. My phone tells me its been two hours since breakfast. Time for a snack. Then its lunch. Then its snack time. Then it’s supper. I’m trying very hard not to snack after that because of my inner tube, but I always feel like it. I don’t care if my pants/corset are too tight. Thanks to Tracy’s weight class (the suffering! the joy!) they’re not.
If you have a book you’ve always wanted to write and it’s going to be action packed, let your characters have a moment or two. A bathroom break. A sandwich. Even a bag of chips snatched from a vendor as they whip by, two steps ahead of a giant robot. From all parts of the theater, people like me will exhale in relief, finally able to enjoy the rest of the movie.
If I was a character in a movie, caught by the enemy and facing a death squad, I know what my last words would be. Instead of requesting a cigarette, I’d say, ‘Do you have any bananas?’ And people like me watching the movie would mutter, ‘Good choice.’ People asking about the movie later might say, ‘Was it sad?’
“Yes, but they let her have a banana.’
‘Oh. Thank goodness.’
A little kindness goes a long way. I just hope the Rotten Tomatoes critics like my idea.