Friday, November 23, 2012

"Easy as Pie"? How easy is pie? (a writing post about mental hurdles)

Yesterday's Thanksgiving cooking got me to thinking about something. A lot of people these days, who aren't accustomed to cooking, think cooking is difficult. I think I've roasted a turkey all of twice, possibly three times in my life, counting yesterday. I got out my cookbook, found a recipe and followed it. But I confess that before I got the recipe out, I was in a panic, going, "I don't know how to roast a turkey!"

It made me think of the expression "easy as pie," which remains in the English language even though a great many of us wouldn't find pie particularly easy.

There are several different elements that go into perceiving some form of cooking as easy or difficult.
  • How often you cook.
  • How easy the ingredients are to procure. 
  • Whether you like to use cookbooks.
  • Whether you find following directions easy.
 If you've only ever tried to cook a cake out of a box, then it might seem really tricky to bake one from scratch. It isn't, really, though it might take more time. If you're an expert cook, you only have to have one or two tiny hints about how to vary a recipe before you are able to do something amazing.

What we're really looking at here are mental hurdles. What seems normal and easy to some people seems inconceivable to other people, just based on their culture and their personal experiences. This strikes me as something we should all be trying to fit into stories about aliens or stories about people from different cultures. After all, we can have extreme differences in skill and comfort in the kitchen, even compared to our own neighbors - surely there would be more such contrasts between people with greater differences.

I am continually amazed at how stories reduce friction between the people they portray, in service of a single main conflict. If there's cultural contrast and misunderstanding, often it's done in a peripheral or token manner. But this kind of thing is everywhere. Think about how different people are and what they are comfortable or uncomfortable with, what they find normal, what they find easy. Let that weave into the main conflict, serve it and drive it forward.

It's something to think about.