I have been taught countless, fantastic tips from my writing teachers about characterization but my favorite has always been “to get into your characters’ heads as much as possible.” At first this proved simple to me since my first novel had an elementary school teacher as the protagonist and my career for the past ten years has been just that. It was when I decided to begin my second novel with my protagonist being a pastry chef that proved difficult. Baking had always been a love of mine, but writing as someone who did it for a career was passed my area of expertise. I know as writers, we have to do research, but to what extent? Luckily, my mother-in-law had a friend who owned a well- known bakery in Hershey, Pa and before I knew it, I had a two day job shadowing opportunity with one of the employed pastry chefs.
I was so excited, maybe I’d even contemplate a career change. Baking was always so much fun to me, I found it to be incredibly relaxing. I usually bake at night, after I put my son to sleep, with music or the television as background noise, sometimes chatting to my husband about his day as I measure, mix, and sift (and sample the results of course).
Fast forward a few weeks later and I came to the realization that baking for a career it NOT relaxing.
Beginning work at 5 am, standing on your feet all day, and decorating a cake three times over because of an unsatisfied customer, were just a few eye openers during my experience as a pastry chef. And having time to sneak a few bites of cookie dough? Forget it. I was lucky to gulp down a sandwich in between tasks.
When my two day stint was over, I collapsed on the couch, my hands practically numb from the constant stirring of cake batter and clutching of pastry bags. I realized that baking as a hobby and baking as a profession are totally different.
Grateful for the research I had been able to do, and with a newfound respect for pastry chefs, I began my characterization of my protagonist with more confidence and ease. And, I definitely have decided to leave the baking as a hobby.