Not That Type of Perky

Most rational discussions of stereotypes in either role-playing games or fiction writing quickly include the idea of a character as wish-fulfilment; as either the creator’s idea or how they would like to be, or how they would like their ideal partner to be. A similar, if darker, theory is sometimes raised in discussions of discrimination. But both these are things of which creators are well aware, and so will often be sought out in editing. It might be the trivial issues that actually most strongly constrain a writer’s unconscious.

At the start of the week I was invited to submit to a short-story collection for Valentine’s Day. Despite the incredibly tight deadline you might expect are needed to ensure the general editor can gather the submissions, edit them, and receive back the revised stories in time for mid-February, I thought I would give it a try. Somehow I not only found an idea that fitted the theme (romance, no speculative fiction elements) but it all came together really quickly, and I dashed out the entire first draft yesterday. I set it aside to marinade in my unconscious for a few days and moved on. However, this morning I was suddenly overcome with doubt about my setting: most of the events take place in a coffee shop.

On the face of it, this seems unexceptional. In context, it there might be more cause to wonder: Midnight Shakes The Memory has a barista as one of the protagonists; one of the key elements in the inciting event for Inner Beauty is a character’s preference for a particular style of coffee.

Cup of Coffee
Never mind milk first or last, did I mention milk at all?
Johanna MacDonaldCC BY NC 2.0)

So I looked back over other things I have written recently: Shoulders of Giants is coffee free; as is An Unquiet Calm; Thieves in the Night opens with Jason lamenting the lack of good coffee; even Crest of a Wave, which is not set on Earth, has coffee as the only drink mentioned.

Conversely, the only recent work to mention tea is An Unquiet Calm.

Whilst it is by no means wish-fulfilment (I drink fresh-ground coffee every day), it does appear that I include coffee drinking as a theme. However, I also omit it where it is not something prevalent in the setting: Shoulders of Giants is set on the International Space Station just before an apocalypse, so there is not likely to be coffee; and An Unquiet Calm is set in rural England just after the Second World War, when coffee was not really a common drink.

And none of the characters in Crystal Cowboy, the novel I am currently outlining, have shown any caffeine preferences.

So I am unsure whether it is discrimination in favour of coffee drinking characters, or just confirmation bias distorting a perfectly realistic proportion of coffee drinking.

On the face of it, there is little issue with coffee-drinking characters. But, now I have noticed it, how much of my time that would otherwise be spent on major plot improvement will be diverted into the question of the mystical significance of tea?

Do you find small things reoccurring in your writing? Do you notice if authors have the same habit appear in several of their books?


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