If you checked in this past Friday on my What I’m Reading feature, you probably noticed that one of my recent reads was a nonfiction called The Omnivore’s Dilemma. The author Michael Pollan follows each of the food chains that sustain us—industrial food, organic or alternative food, and food we forage ourselves—from the source to a final meal, and in the process develops a definitive account of the American way of eating. I’m not going to get into an extensive synopsis or review of the book today. However, because today is my fodder for fiction feature day, I’m going to share a tidbit within the book that made me think about another aspect of character to consider when I build new fictional characters.
In the last section of the book, where Pollan is foraging for a meal, he states,
“Playing at self-reliance takes different forms in different people and you can probably tell a lot about a person by his choice of atavism: whether he’s drawn to the patient and solitary attentiveness of fishing, the strict mathematical syntax of building, the emotional drama of the hunt, or the mostly comic dialogue with other species that unfolds in the garden. Most of us have a pretty good idea which of these jobs we’d try for if somehow a time machine were to plunk us down in the Pleistocene or Neolithic.”
From the perspective of crafting good fiction, I like the idea of probing into which of these qualities a given character will possess. I like even better thinking about how a character who enjoys “patient and solitary attentiveness” of fishing will conflict with another who is drawn to “emotional drama” of the hunt for instance.
Pollan goes on to write, “At least until my adventures in hunting and gathering I’d always thought of myself as a Neolithic kind of guy. Growing food has been my atavism of choice since I was ten years old, when I planted a “farm” in my parent’s suburban yard and set up a farm stand patronized, pretty much exclusively, by my mother.”
This begs another proposition from a literary perspective. Taking a “gardener” and thrusting her into a “hunt” would make a great story! See, even when I’m reading nonfiction I can’t seem to get my mind out of the land-of-make believe.
Best to you,
Lisa Lipkind Leibow
Author of Smart Women’s Fiction