Six women. One man. Seven secrets. One could ruin them all.
Kit is a twenty-five-year-old archaeology undergrad, who doesn’t like to get her hands dirty. Life seems purposeless. But if she could track down her father, Roger, maybe her perspective would change.
The only problem—Roger is as rotten as the decomposing oranges in her back yard according to the women in her life: Ailish, her mother—an English literature professor who communicates in quotes and clichés, and who still hasn’t learned how to express emotion on her face; Ivy, her half-sister—a depressed archaeologist, with a slight case of nymphomania who fled to America after a divorce to become a waitress; and Eleanor, Ivy’s mother—a pediatric surgeon who embellishes her feelings with medical jargon, and named her daughter after “Intravenous.”
Against all three women’s wishes, Kit decides to find Roger.
Enter a sister Kit never knew about.
But everyone else did.
~ Xpresso BT
SYMBOLIC INTERACTIONISM: CREATING AUTHENTIC CHARACTERS IN BITTER LIKE ORANGE PEEL
by Jessica Bell
As I was writing Bitter Like Orange Peel, I really enjoyed exploring the way in which people behave differently depending on who they are interacting with. It is written from the perspective of many different characters, so readers will witness their behaviour from different angles, which was quite a challenge to execute, but very interesting and entertaining for me to write. The various POVs (points of view) also helped me make their motivations clear, because I had to ask myself, for example, “Why do we perceive Ivy’s mother, Eleanor, as cold-hearted and clinical through Ivy’s eyes, but through the Eleanor’s best friend’s eyes, we discover how generous and vulnerable she is?”
After having a conversation with a few friends about this, I discovered a term “Symbolic Interactionism.”
So what exactly is Symbolic Interactionism?
“The term ‘symbolic interaction’ refers, of course, to the peculiar and distinctive character of interaction as it takes place between human beings. The peculiarity consists in the fact that human beings interpret or ‘define’ each other’s actions instead of merely reacting to each other’s actions. Their ‘response’ is not made directly to the actions of one another but instead is based on the meaning which they attach to such actions. Thus, human interaction is mediated by the use of symbols, by interpretation, or by ascertaining the meaning of one another’s actions. This mediation is equivalent to inserting a process of interpretation between stimulus and response in the case of human behavior.” (Blumer, p. 180). (Source)
Let me offer you a simple example:
Just say the mother of, let’s call her Gina, and a friend of Gina’s were to visit her home (at different times), and notice a new pot plant in the corner of Gina’s lounge room, and they were to suggest she put it by the window to get more sun light. Gina’s instinctual response to her mother is snarky: “I’ll put it where I want to put it, thank you very much.” The mother then opens her mouth to defend herself, but Gina interrupts asking if she’d like a cup of coffee to quickly move on from the issue. But her simple response to her friend is: “Hmm, that’s probably a good idea.” Gina then moves the plant to the window without a fuss.
Such different responses for the same scenario, right? And it’s this sort of behaviour that tells us a lot about who these characters are and the relationships they have with each other. When writing Bitter Like Orange Peel, I really had to consider how each character behaved in the presence of another to make their relationships as realistic as possible. And when you start to think about the reasons behind such simple behaviours (such as the Gina scenario above), it will help develop solid, well-rounded, characters.
So tell me, what do you think the plant scenario says about the relationship between Gina and her mother? Without being told their backstory, what do you think are some possible reasons for Gina’s (and the mother’s) reaction?
About the Author & Links:
If Jessica Bell could choose only one creative mentor, she’d give the role to Euterpe, the Greek muse of music and lyrics. This is not only because she currently resides in Athens, Greece, but because of her life as a thirty-something Australian-native contemporary fiction author, poet and singer/songwriter/guitarist, whose literary inspiration often stems from songs she’s written. Jessica is the Co-Publishing Editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal and annually runs the Homeric Writers’ Retreat & Workshop on the Greek island of Ithaca. For more information, please visit her website
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