Of Bacon and Breakfast
One thing that really struck me was what the kids missed. We were gone for 13 days--a long time for kids, especially when they know deeply how very far away mom and dad are. It's not like summer camp, where mom can come pick you up when you have a fight with your friend and take you home--you're stuck there the whole time.
Of course they missed family and friends and (most of all) boyfriends and girlfriends. But what did they complain about missing the most?
They ate traditional European meals--which meant that breakfast was a bread of some sort (croissant, baguette, etc.) and juice, or cereal and milk. Not eggs and bacon and sausage and grits and biscuits and gravy.
My mother, who helped chaperon the kids, missed ice in her drinks. (True story: by the end of the trip, she ordered and "iced drink" and was ecstatic to get ONE SINGLE ICE CUBE in the whole glass.) I, who sweats like a sinner in church at the slightest hint of heat, missed my beloved air conditioner most of all.
In near-dystopian books where the main characters are experiencing a world gone wrong recently (as opposed to far future), the main characters almost always miss the way things were. They miss the freedoms the new oppressive government has taken away, they miss their parents or friends who are somehow gone, they miss the way their life was before.
But they should also miss bacon.
For me, the most real moments in these stories are the moments that make me believe the characters are real. Of course the characters have to miss the big things: family, home, friends, and freedom. But they also need to miss the little things. The most poignant scene in How We Live Now for me was when the main character stole and ate some chocolate from her family, just because she longed for chocolate so much.
Sometimes, it's the little, mundane things we don't even think about in daily life that we miss the most when they're gone. In my current work in progress, my main character is very homesick for the world of the past, a world she can't return to. When she made a list of everything she missed, she had her family and friends, but she also included driving with the windows down, her grandmother's chicken and dumplings, and Q-tips.
When reading dystopian, watch for this kind of detail.You can tell a lot about a character by seeing if they miss toilet paper or newspapers more. If you're writing a dystopia, make sure to include this sort of detail in your work. Make your characters real by including the mundane and reminding us all that at the end of the world, what you might miss most is bacon.
The League of Extraordinary Writers is a group of debut YA authors who write science fiction and dystopian works. The ten of us have works that run the gamut of near-future mind control to far-future space travel, but they do have one thing in common: a future where the Earth we know now is twisted, gone.