The Funeral Baked Meats

Sorry this is late.

In a novel I’ve been working on lately, I found myself looking for gatherings that could be used to introduce and/or develop a bunch of characters in one scene.  I get tired of reading narrative fiction iin which only two or three characters develop to the point of being interesting people.  Still, side plot can interrupt and slow the pace of a story.  I opened my most recent mystery with the hero and heroine having dinner in a restaurant without even the interference of a waiter.  With a busier setting I could have brought half a dozen characters onstage at once.  Far more interesting.

With mysteries, half a dozen scenes are almost obligatory.  For instance, the interrogation of a major suspect by (usually) two investigators, or the autopsy with its gruesome narrative and sick jokes, the come-all-ye scene near the end when all the suspects are gathered together in a room and the solution to the crime is revealed.  Those scenes almost narrate themselves, but, for the rest of the story, it can be difficult to find situations where the array of suspects and bystanders will interact sufficiently to create the imaginary community that serves as the setting for the crime.

A French film I saw recently, Barbecue, deals with multiple friendships with wit and charm.  A game of boule involving most of the friends becomes a vivid metaphor from emotional shots they take at each other, but the best development of all the characters occurs at meals.  The serving of a strip of rare beef and the pouring of a glass of sangria assume and underline emotional meaning in a way that words alone cannot.

When I think back on the mysteries I’ve written, some of the best character development and, oddly, the best action came in a memorial service, a ride on a crowded subway car, a picnic interrupted by a killer, and a funeral meal, group scenes all of them.  While the funeral baked meats didn’t actually furnish forth a marriage feast, I did manage to present a bevy of folks revealing their true colors under ritualized stress.

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