by Chantal Boudreau
I, like many writers, am a lover of coffee. I drink coffee every day, try to get my hands on the best coffee possible for my price range, and I have a cubicle shelf cover dedicated to coffee quotes and cartoons, known as “the coffee wall”. Considering how important coffee is to me, it makes sense that I include it in my writing from time to time, right?
In my recent FOODFIC post, “Flavouring Fantasy,” I discussed the idea of using mundane things like food and drink to enhance fantasy fiction, taking world-building to another level. The same exercise can be applied to most genres, even those not related to speculative fiction.
And while coffee is a mundane thing, it is still something I happen to be passionate about. They say you’re supposed to write about what you know, and I know coffee. Here are a few ways I’ve found to use my passions as fuel and fodder for my writing:
Realism/Research: I have much more enthusiasm for researching something I find fascinating or intriguing to begin with. Incorporating coffee into some of my more realistic, detail-oriented stories means I get to find out new information about something I really like. For example, writing my short story “Waking the Dead,” a tale linking zombies with coffee, required research into types of coffee grown in Haiti as well as rust, a fungal affliction that affects coffee plants. I had the pleasure of increasing my knowledge of coffee while gathering the facts I needed to make my story more believable.
Focus: Especially with short stories, I find having a focal point for my story facilitates the creative process and strengthens the plot. Several people have said the “Waking the Dead” is one of my better zombie stories and I would attribute that the fact that coffee serves as a central theme.
Simile/Metaphor: Sometimes when you need something to explain an extraordinary or supernatural event in a fantasy setting, the best way is to compare it to something else you know very well. Coffee has served as a tool for me, functioning for the sake of comparison in the past. Here’s an example from Magic University, describing Ebon, one of the competitors, drawing sustenance from magic:
He continued onwards, abandoning the map face up in the mud. He had not expected this would happen, and knew it meant that he would have to feed, something he rarely felt the inclination to do. This did not please him. Feeding took time and energy, and he had neither.
Arriving at what he believed was his destination, he began his search. He had no trouble locating the leather wallet that contained the token. He could pick out with ease the two glowing magical auras surrounding the purse, and they smelt absolutely heavenly, like the aroma of fresh bread or strong coffee. He salivated at the thought of absorbing all of that sweet, distinctly different energy. The one reminiscent of coffee was harsh and bitter, but strangely satisfying, the other somewhat bland, but slightly sweet and very substantial. That was the only one he intended to feed off of, absorbing what he could as quickly as he could. This was the plan, but once he started, he could not stop.
He had not recognized his hunger, had not realized just how ravenous he had become. He sucked back the spell’s energies, lost in the instinct to feed and absorb. Before he had realized it, he had completely devoured the first spell and had started in on the second. He had lost all track of time, and as the last drop of energy slipped past his ethereal lips, he stretched out, thoroughly satisfied and replenished.
As you can see, there are several ways to use ordinary but much loved things to spice up your story, allowing you different way of deriving greater satisfaction from your tale – or in my case, ways to perk things up.
And if you are more invested in your story as a writer, chances are, readers will be too.