Today for lunch I had three small tacos from one of my favorite taco shops in my area. The tacos are simple, meat, onions, and cilantro. I add salsa verde and lime juice, then devour them with a smile on my face. Why are these tacos so good? There are many aspects that go into the flavor profile in these tacos, seasoning, the grill where the meat is cooked, fresh ingredients, good quality tortilla, and that they are served in a folded-up piece of foil inside a brown paper bag. Simple, good, fresh and delicious.
For many writers, the flavor profile for their characters is not so simple. Many characters have complex stories, plot lines that go all over the place, motivations that are not clear to the reader(s). My main character (MC) for my first book was kind of this way. Zenith, the MC, when I introduced her in the first book was just told that she lost her father. I have read many books where the MC at some point in the book loses a family member or their whole family. This is kind of the seasoning of the meat for the taco. The death of a family member humanizes the character and draws people to feel something for the character.
In Michelle Sagara’s, The Chronicles of Elantra series, the MC Kaylin Naya, mother died before the first book when the MC was around 7 years old. This has an impact on her that she feels towards orphans and children. I immediately felt for the character and wanted her to win or do good. Later, she loses two young girls that she and her friend were caring for, they were murdered by said friend. There are characters that no matter how much good they do or the reason for their actions, I will never forgive, she has one of those characters in her books.
In my book, Tazeric, the Sword of Light and Dark, Zenith not only loses her father in the first 50 pages but gets wacked in the face with a wooden axe. She is having a bad couple of days, and it is totally my fault. This is the flavor from the grill on the taco meat. While the injury in horrific, there is a big scar that runs across her face now, it is also another way to bring the reader further in to care about the character.
In the anime 86, this flavor come from how the MC and his group of young teenage fighters that are labels as expendable while fighting for an empire that doesn’t even recognize that they are human. The anime is amazing and sad but the fact that people form the 86th district are not even considered people is awful but not the crux of the story. The crux of the story is the MC, Shinei Nouzen, ‘Shin’ to his everyone else and “Undertaker” to his unit in which he is the commander of, hears his dead or lost comrades. The enemy, the Empire of Giad, army used the brains of the fallen soldiers to help fight their former comrades. So, Shin has earned his nickname, “Undertaker” because he will shoot his the dead or dying comrades in the head instead of letting them be taken by the enemy and used against them. Kind of an F’ed up situation but an outstanding story and anime.
Now comes the meat of the story. The meat is the main ingredient for any taco. For my story you don’t get to the meat until Zenith meets the Guardian. This is one cool cat, the Guardian. When i wrote this character, he had the voice of James Earl Jones, he’s that cool. The Guardian is the first character that helps push Zenith and her party to go and search for Tazeric, the powerful sword of legends. Everything after the fated meeting with the Guardian is driven by the want, the need to find Tazeric. The meat of the story.
The meat of the story for Kaylin Naya is to figure out what the powerful and magical tattoos that cover her body mean. (I know that you all are saying, “What tattoos” but I’ll get there, and you may also have to read or listen to the books.) These powerful tattoos mean something to the dragon rulers (I know, there are dragons too) and to some crazy cultist who are hell bent of ending the world or ruling over the world. (I have no desire to either rule the world nor destroy a world in which I and all my stuff still inhabit.) But these tattoos help her heal people, help her with mother’s having complicated births, helps her see magic and other useful things like saving her world.
The foundation to a great taco is a great tortilla. It’s true, a crapy tortilla will fall apart or taste like paper. A great tortilla will help with the overall flavor profile and hold the taco together until the last blissful bite. A book or anime are the same. The MC is the most important part of the book or anime. But the journey, the supporting actors and characters, the world that the author or animation studio builds is just as important to draw the reader or viewer into the story and then return to it again and again.
What does it take to make a winning taco, a winning book or anime series are found in the flavor profiles of each induvial ingredient that goes into the work? With a taco its, meat, seasoning, cilantro, inions, tortilla, and salsa. Easy, right? How many awful tacos have you eaten in your life? How many fast-food tacos have you eaten that took revenge on you the next day? As a chef, I use to say that its “It doesn’t take much effort to make good food, but it takes no effort to make bad food.” The same could be said about writing. Making fresh food takes effort, not that much talent but a whole lot of tenacity. Writing takes those same ingredients, effort, some talent and tenacity.
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