This year on Thanksgiving, I asked my daughter what she wanted for dessert. I gave her a few choices and she chose Potato Chip Cookies. She chose wisely.
If you’re not familiar with Potato Chip Cookies, the sound of them may seem pretty disgusting to you. (Or maybe not.) I know before I tried one I couldn’t imagine how combining potato chips and cookies, both delicious on their own, would result in anything edible. But because I grew up with a father who ate peanut butter/mayonnaise sandwiches, I decided to give them a try.
Potato Chip Cookies are one of my favorite things to eat and make now.
(Side note to my Diabetic Doctor: These are special occasion cookies for me only! Promise!)
The cookies are made with powdered sugar so you get the almost-too-sweet sweetness and Lay’s potato chips which provide the crunchy-salty counterbalance. Really, they’re the best of two worlds wrapped up in one buttery package.
We were discussing exactly what makes these cookies so good and it occurred to me how easily the answer could be translated into writing characters. For my tastes, cookies that are too sweet are easy to refuse—too much sweetness and you’re left with a stomachache and bland taste in your mouth. And if you eat nothing but chips, you’re going to end up with a dry mouth begging for water.
But put them together in one thing? Tasty goodness.
Characters that are too sweet and perfect are boring. It’s hard for readers to care about someone when they always get what they want or everything comes easily for them. Character development comes from conflict and tension when things go wrong.
“Nobody’s perfect” is a cliché for a reason. It’s true. Even the most likable and charismatic people have secrets or fears or issues of some kind, even if they try to hide them. Writing characters who are too perfect is bland, boring, and just not satisfying. Like too sweet cookies, you need a little salty crunchy tastiness to shake things up.
Some of the best written characters are deeply flawed. Take Katniss Everdeen for example. When I read the HUNGER GAMES series, I sometimes just plain disliked Katniss. She was grumpy at times, whiny at times, and she really didn’t want to be the hero they were trying to make her into. Yet, I still rooted for her because it was those very flaws in her character that made her relatable. We’re all grumpy and whiny at times just like Katniss. (Even moi.) As I read, though, I wanted things to turn out for her. Not because she deserved it but because she felt like a real person not a character I was reading about in a book.
Another example from one of my favorite recent series, Four from DIVERGENT. I could write twenty blogs on the complexity of Four and the beautiful nuances of his character. On the surface, he’s got it all together. He’s mysterious, tough, cool, almost unreachable. The perfect example of the Dauntless faction. But bite into him (COOKIE METAPHOR!) and you’ll find a scarred guy who is just trying to cope with his situation and deal with his past demons. He’s still likable because he is ultimately kind to Tris to gives her exactly what she needs to survive and he cares deeply about things in spite of what has happened to him. He’s cookies and potato chips.
I have made it a point to put each of my characters through the Potato Chip Cookie test to make sure they have the right balance of sweet and salty to make them relatable to my readers. And honestly it makes them more fun to write when there’s some of both in them.
And for fun, here is my Potato Chip Cookie recipe for you to enjoy! It’s super easy to do and very delish. I was going to take a photo of our cookies to share here, but we ate them before I could snap the pic.
1 cup Salted Butter
1 cup Powdered Sugar
1 ½ cups All Purpose Flour
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
1 ½ cups crushed Lay’s Potato Chips
Powdered Sugar for Sprinkling
—Preheat oven to 350 degrees
—In a large bowl, cream butter and powdered sugar
—Add flour, and beat with mixer while adding vanilla
—With spoon fold in Potato Chips
—Drop dough by spoonfuls 1 ½ inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet
—Bake 15-18 minutes, until lightly colored
—Remove from baking sheet and sprinkle with powdered sugar and let cool.