By Nancy J. Farrier
I sat beside my dad in his room at the nursing home and watched my mom leave with the burnt sugar cake she’d made for his birthday. We’d already done the song and candles. She wanted to share the cake with staff members before we all sat down for our dessert and time together. This was my dad’s first birthday since he’d been in the nursing home and this celebration had a bittersweet quality.
As mom disappeared through the doorway, dad leaned close to me and said, “Don’t tell your mom, but I’ve never liked that cake.”
Shocked speechless, I gawked open-mouthed for a minute before blurting, “You don’t like burnt sugar cake?” He stared at me with his bright blue eyes and his mouth twisted in a wry expression. By this time, dad rarely spoke and before long he would lose all ability for speech. One of the final things he verbalized to me stated that he’d never liked the special cake my mom made just for him all these years. Why?
The shock my dad gave me reminds me of those times I’ve read a surprising revelation by a character in a book. Or, the times I’ve written in those twists. You know what I mean–the moment when a character does something startling and you have to consider why they acted in such a way.
If the author does a good job building the character, the reader can look back at the clues and see what led up to the momentous decision. The reader has an ah-ha moment when all the little pieces click in place. What appeared to be a random action or statement, becomes a revelation that leaves the one with great satisfaction and understanding of why it all took place. There is now an added depth to that character, leaving the reader with greater appreciation of the story.
Why did my dad say he didn’t like the cake my mom baked for him? As I pondered this question, I discovered two clues. First, my dad loved pie. He always said he liked two kinds of pie—hot and cold. He ate cake, but didn’t like cake like he did pie.
Second, my dad had the greatest love for my mom. He knew the burnt sugar cake took finesse to make. (The sugar had to be cooked just right to bring out the flavor without a burned taste.) Because mom worked so hard, he ate that cake for years and never let anyone know he didn’t like the flavor. None of us had a clue because he never complained.
When I considered his surprising statement in light of his love of pie, and his love for my mom, I had a deeper understanding of my dad’s godliness and an admiration for him that I hadn’t known before. This is the type of divulgence an author needs to strive for in their books.