CharactersSavvyBlog

Create Savory Characters by Asking, “What Kind of Noodle Are You?” by Stephanie Spann

When making noodles and writing characters, sift, knead, rest and repeat.

I’ve learned that it’s perfectly normal to ask the combined flours in my bowl, “What kind of noodle are you?” Although I’ve recently thawed out one of my failed previous noodle attempts and added it to a cluttered hodgepodge bowl of soup, I am still one of the greatest Armchair Noodle Masters of all time.  With over twenty years of experience, I’ve amassed a sizeable collection of cookbooks and videos of Noodle Pullers, Ramen Chefs and Pasta Grannies.  Thanks to captivating high-definition and slow-motion footage that’s aided by dramatic electric guitar and drumbeats, I have perfected my craft.

In my mind, I can predict the taste and flavor of any noodle with enviable precision.

In the kitchen? Like, an actual kitchen with pots and pans? Well, naturally, I’ll defer to any youngster with an Easy Bake Oven and parental supervision.  In ten seconds, one chef can make 128 noodles. Phenomenal. Well, I can watch the clip at double-speed. So, in five seconds I can watch him make…the same amount. Like I said, I’m an Armchair Noodle Master.

The similarities between crafting noodles and writing memorable characters is astonishing. The simple chemistry between a mixture of flour and water mirrors the relationships between main characters on the page. The chemistry of gluten (flying sparks and conflict), the magical strength of gluten-free noodles likens to goals and motivations, not to mention how the addition of each ingredient in the finished bowl alludes to a happy ending for our heroines and heroes.

Here’s a way to sift through character development and add spring to your noodles.

Consistency.

When making noodles you have to dig your fingers into the flour. Really dig in there. One chef explained that there are three realities while noodle-making: what you see, hear and feel. Soba noodles don’t have gluten and if the process of mixing the flour takes too long, the noodles will break. With eyes closed, he explained how his ten fingers became receptors that guided him in the three realities until he reached the optimal dough consistency.

As writers, we need to protect the spirit of our characters, dare I say, by treating them like noodles. In the end, the process can be pleasant, but I’ve learned that each session is a battle. Having been unofficially promoted to Armchair Noodle Master Admiral, because that would be my rank in both Star Fleet and Noodle Academy, I must advise novices that you don’t want your flours to clash. Light and flat, or grainy and smooth textures don’t always work well. The best noodles are made swiftly, but not carelessly. Flour combinations are the subject of much thought.

You never want to add ingredients that will cause your noodles to disintegrate. While kneading you’ll ask yourself if there’s a conflict of texture?  Arrowroot flour adds bounce, Coconut adds sweetness, Tapioca gives stretch, while Garbanzo flour gives weight. Take note, did the textures in your bowl clash?

With your characters, it’s a different recipe. The opposite qualities might bring sparks to the page and reader fulfillment. Starting out as a novice, it’s most difficult because you’ll get a mix of bitter, soft, salty, hard and (yikes!) gritty. But what’s sad for the noodle is priceless for the character. In the end, that conflict and the experience of living through it, will contribute to your character’s growth.  That’s where the next, most important step comes in.

Conflict and Calm…

Wait.

The best noodles require us to step back and wait for the dough to settle after long bouts of kneading.  With experience comes inner peace and a calmness that provides clarity. While kneading, each subtle movement of your wrist, finger and roll of the shoulder leads to a peaceful experience of resting. It’s super difficult to walk away for a while and let the dough silently recover, but the dough has to go through a lot to become the best version of itself.

In terms of writing, so do your characters. In the same way, throughout the chaos of their growth, your characters will respond the pressure of the struggles by becoming resilient, grounded and unmoved. Giving them a moment to reflect on how far they’ve come after a huge accomplishment or devastating reveal, is crucial. Not to mention that readers need to take a breath to play catch-up with the plot points.

What am I saying? The plot’s pressure and problems add extra seasoning and depth. No spice, pressure or acid is insignificant to our noodles and it’s the same with our characters. All interactions have a purpose.

Caution, Courage and Creativity…

Let’s be real. Making noodles is a direct challenge to your creativity and courage. Blindly rushing in to making a batch of noodles without a plan or experience is a sure way to fail. Think about the consequences and revel in a moment of caution.  If you hear a small voice egging you on saying, “Don’t worry about what’ll happen,” that’s the voice of a villain whose noodles, not to mention character growth are, say it with me, sure to fail. It makes for a beautiful downfall on paper though. Just saying.

And by all means, if you decided to rush ahead and use a flour just because it looked good or seemed like a good idea at the time, only to realize it lacks the qualities consistent with noodlemaking, let me tell you my friend, it doesn’t matter how long you knead that abhorrent mixture, in the end, you will meet failure. Your characters will want to stop resolving their issues, but they must persist.

Learn from others. Yes, your noodles will break and taste awful in the beginning and you may want to stop, but you must continue. In his quest to become the greatest, one chef and restauranteur explained how noodle masters made one hundred bowls of noodles a day. So, to become the best, he made five hundred bowls a day to learn as much in half the time. With authors, this one is easy. How many of us have imagined a fleet of characters with innumerable qualities and personality types daily?

Great authors’ characters are memorable, their backstories have gravitas and every scene contributes to the character’s growth spiritually, physically, psychologically – you name it. In the beginning it’s great to use their style or a template but in the end, you must come up with your own recipe. Does this involve suffering and gnashing of the teeth? For sure.

If you neglect the right ingredients the consistency of your characters’ backstory, thoughts and actions will not ring true. Don’t leave your readers with a bitter taste in their mouths. Learn, practice and thrive. Soon, readers will be able to identify and recognize your noodles and characters based on the ingredients or character traits you choose. In the end, your discipline will be easily recognizable as an author and a chef.

Savor…

Each bowl of noodles would be incomplete without that special bit to provide the full experience. Su filindeu relies on mutton broth while some ramen uses pork broth to add a wholesome base. Think of the broth as the equivalent of the character’s backstory. The experiences they’ve simmered in for the whole of their life, before the story you’re writing prepares them for the next step. It’s sure to be your best story yet, so let them really marinate before setting them on their merry way.

An egg in your bowl could represent new beginnings or rebirth, a bone broth can settle the soul and grated cheese might equate the piquant, warm fuzzy feeling when your reader reaches, “The End.” Remember, from an elastic or firm noodle to the delightful flourishes at the end, your noodles and writing can make people feel joy, contentment, peace and perhaps, wonder.  Here’s to your next uninterrupted stream of thoughts, savory characters and bowlful of unbroken noodles!


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Stephanie is wild about Danish, Swedish and French police dramas and sci-fi adventures. Her dream rock concert would be, 'Jem and The Decepticons.' Wh...
Excellent article!

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