I don’t know about you, but with the completion of Follow Me, I’m breathing a tremendous sigh of relief
Shortly after she’d made a wedding, I met my neighbor. We chatted about gowns — she’d worn a beautiful, custom-made gown — and I asked her what she planned on doing with it now. Rent it out, save it for her next child’s wedding?
“Oh, I sold it already,” she told me.
“Yeah, I posted it on Instagram and it got sold right away.”
I was dumbstruck. I knew there was a world out there that I wasn’t part of, but I’d never realized how immediate the reach was within our own community.
I learned over time. Not by joining — I have no social media access and my flip phone hardly cooperates with sending a simple text message — but by living in the 21st century and picking up on the reality. Every ad includes an Instagram handle, and many clients I worked with requested content for their social media feeds.
(I also learned new definitions for old words: handle, feed, tag, share, like, follow. You don’t have to open an Instagram account to learn all this, you can simply sit down in your sheitelmacher’s chair and get a complete education.)
At one point, I was involved in a marketing project and hired a girl to set up some social media accounts. That venture introduced me to yet more of the technical makings of this unfamiliar world. I learned about influencers and stories, hashtags and reels. If the girl found my ignorance stunning, she politely kept it to herself, answering my green questions and continuing to do what she was hired to do.
Throughout all this, I developed a fascination for this foreign habitat. Who were the people who followed, and who were the people they followed? How much of this existence was straightforward — and how much an illusion? How did a poster turn into an idol — and what was it like to live with thousands of virtual eyes on your back?
hen I started mapping out this serial with Bassi Gruen and Avigail Sharer, I had Yochi and Pessie figured out in no time. I knew I wanted this serial to focus on marital conflict, and it was a matter of mechanics to figure out this couple’s dynamic and get their conflicts cooking.
The second main character wasn’t coming to me, though. I needed someone from an entirely different existence, someone whose unique life would have an impact on the Herskos’ journey.
Deena popped into my head moments before a meeting with Bassi and Avigail. When we got on the phone, I was tripping over my words — I hadn’t even had a chance to type out my thoughts. “A food blogger,” I told my editors breathlessly. “A social media influencer who’s a single parent. She created an image of awesomeness while her personal life is a total mess.”
Avigail laughed. “Yes, yes, yessss.”
But there were two problems with this very great main character.
First, I’m not on social media.
Second, I’m not a foodie. Like really, really not.
As a writer, it always feels safer to write about what you know. I did not know Deena and her life for beans. Somewhat fearfully, I set out to learn.
Every writing project requires research. At the same time that I was interviewing tour hosts and guests, I hunted down a bunch of social media users and grilled them. As they spoke, I latched onto the many principles and quirks of Instagram life, and these tidbits wove their way into Deena’s plot arc.
Chanie Nayman and Michal Frischman came on board to help. If I’d thought I had a grip on the basics of social media, I quickly realized how illiterate I was. They rescued me from many embarrassing mistakes.
Some comments were technical — It would be one long video that her phone automatically breaks up when it posts, or, Porcinis are hard to source, use another meaty mushroom, like creminis.
(…and I thought portabella was fancy…)
Some were practical. We changed up Deena’s show program as per Michal’s comment: Most people won’t take their rings off because of splattering butter, but would to make a dough — can you swap?
My response: I’ll do whatever you say when it comes to food shows. The last person’s opinion I trust here is my own. Just note that this will require a bunch of little tweaks in the next few scenes.
And some were simple lifesavers.
Me: As she dug her spoon into XXXX — Michal? Chanie?
Still, a character is a person, no matter her occupation. I connected with Deena easily. I actually loved her right away, while I had a hard time liking Pessie. Deena was cool and fun, while Pessie was rigid and cold.
But the more I got to know them, my preferences shifted. I started connecting with Pessie and sympathizing with her plight. She so badly wanted to cooperate, she was determined to make her marriage succeed, but the circumstances she faced perplexed her.
With Deena, on the other hand, the more I got to know her, the greater my revulsion for her world grew. I couldn’t stand the falseness of her life, and I was eager to open her eyes and subject her to a reality check.
Which wasn’t fair. She was my main character, I had to like her — and I had to make sure she was likeable.
The shift back happened when the two women met and connected. In Pessie’s presence, Deena finally allowed herself to expose her vulnerabilities.
But really, the shift back happened when I finally “met” Deena. By boring through her barricaded exterior, I started understanding her world. There was so much more to her than her social media presence.
The moment I stepped over my barrier, she stepped over hers, and I started rooting for her. I started sympathizing for her. And I started really liking her, no red hearts or emojis attached.
his is what I love about fiction.
I’m often asked what made me think of writing about some unique character — do I know anyone like that? No. Really no. I happen to be acquainted with a tour director, but I only remembered that person when I was well into writing this serial.
That’s because Yochi isn’t a tour director. He’s Yochi. He’s a high-spirited person with passion burning in his heart. He’s pleasant and kind and has a knack for establishing a warm atmosphere in every setting. He’s flexible and creative — and despite Pessie’s valid arguments — he’s also levelheaded and responsible. He has so many admirable traits, and at the same time, those admirable traits cause others aggravation. That’s what makes Yochi Yochi, and I — well, he — chose an occupation where these characteristics naturally shine.
Fiction allows you to explore characteristics and discover what happens when different sets of characteristics collide. Interesting conflicts arise leading to unexpected turns of events. At the core, it’s always human nature at play. The thoughts, the feelings, the habits, the fears, and the goals of each character come forward, and you enter new worlds, walk in the shoes of very alive people.
And you learn things. I learned that social media is a lot more nuanced than I’d assumed. I learned what some of the challenges really are, and to appreciate how these challenges impact a person like Deena.
I also learned that you could write about a topic you’re not familiar with. And that Italian cuisine is Google-able but that Michal always knows better.
I don’t know about you, but with the completion of Follow Me, I’m breathing a tremendous sigh of relief. Not only because the pressure of weekly deadlines is behind me (that calls for a huge exhale, believe me), but because I’m so happy for my characters. They’ve done it! They’ve grown and matured, they’ve faced their fears and their flaws. They’ve learned to communicate, to be true to themselves and open with others. They’ve acknowledged their challenges and broken through barriers to address them.
These characters aren’t real, but they easily could be. We can identify with many of their conflicts, either from personal experience or from the experiences of people we know. And for all these characters — the imagined and the real — we celebrate.
Writing this serial has been a remarkable journey. Thank you for following me.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 790)
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