Fortune Cookies and Seven Ways to Use Them in Your Writing
Today's your lucky day!
I love fortune cookies. From cracking them open, to pulling out the slip of paper, to reading the fortune, to eating the sweet crunchy thing—I love everything about them. I always smile when I find saved fortunes (a recent "found" cache led to this post) whenever I go through an old purse or drawers in my house. They're great for starting conversation at a party, especially when one of my friends yells, "In bed!" after every reading. They make an easy dessert.
But what good are fortune cookies to writers? Ah, let me count the ways...
Fortune cookies are succinct in their predictions or advice. They don't tell you everything. No backstory. No names. Just "Beware a stranger." or "A surprise tonight." What if you plant a foreshadowing idea or information like a fortune cookie for your reader? You can heighten the suspense, tension or anticipation with a hint of danger or excitement, but keep it a mystery so your readers continue to turn the pages.
Fortune cookies are fun. Who hasn't scoffed at a fortune cookie, then later had a friend remind them about dinner at Wong Fu's and the crazy fortunes? Have you ever gotten a fortune that you so wanted to be true? What would that fortune be for your protagonist? For your villain?
Have you ever gotten a fortune that you abso-posi-lutely didn't want to happen? Were you hyper-vigilant, worried, in denial, laughing? What if an off-handed comment produced the same response in your hero? Think about how that comment was heard. From a neighboring table in a fancy restaurant by a beautiful stranger? Overheard outside his partner's office? Whispered in his ear after passionate lovemaking? The message is important, but so is the delivery.
What do you do when the bag, or box, is empty? Do you rush out for more? Are you happy those cookies are finally gone? What does your character do when there seems to be no help, no insight, no where to turn? Do they rush to be in the company of others or are they content with solitude? Do they seek advice from reliable, or not so reliable, sources? How do they get through that black moment?
If your muse is on vacation, grab a bag of fortune cookies and crack them open. You'll find something to spark a story idea, whether it's for your work in progress or for starting a brand new project. Expect some fun, even if you don't eat the cookies.
Everybody orders take-out. Think goal-motivation-conflict. The hero's goal is bad news for your heroine. Her goal is equally bad for him. What if they ordered take-out, alone or together, and the fortunes are just what they want, but for the other person? You could spin that into a humorous, awkward, or dramatic response, depending on where the scene takes place in your book.
And, of course, you know, there never has to be a mention of a fortune cookie in your manuscript. This can be a covert strategy. Transparency isn't necessary for authors.
Share one of your saved fortunes with us. Other than "You're going to sell a book soon"-because that's a given, what would your ideal fortune say right now?
Fae Rowen discovered the romance genre after years as a science fiction freak. Writing futuristics and medieval paranormals, she jokes that she can live anywhere but the present. As a mathematician, she knows life’s a lot more fun when you get to define your world and its rules.
Punished, oh-no, that’s published as a co-author of a math textbook, she yearns to hear personal stories about finding love from those who read her books, rather than the horrors of calculus lessons gone wrong. She is grateful for friends who remind her to do the practical things in life like grocery shop, show up at the airport for a flight and pay bills.
A “hard” scientist who avoided writing classes like the plague, she now shares her brain with characters who demand their stories be told. Amazing, gifted critique partners keep her on the straight and narrow. Feedback from readers keeps her fingers on the keyboard.
What a great post. Something unique today. Thanks for posting it.
Thanks, coldhandboyack! Glad you enjoyed it.
Use the Force, Luke.
Be still my science fiction beating heart, Joseph!
"Character is who you are when no one is looking." This is pinned to my wall at work.
Yeah, Jacqueline! That is a great reminder, not only for you, but for your co-workers.
Enjoyed this post! And enjoyed getting to know Fae a bit. I, like Fae, enjoy living anywhere but the present. ha ha. Not really....well, sort of not really. Well, actually, the world my writerly mind makes up can be a lot more fun. 🙂
Thanks, roughwighting! I think I'm am uncomplicated, open book, but Laura Drake tells me I'm wrong. And lately, deep in the third pass of the book I decided to self-pub, I have missed more exits on the freeway than I care to admit because I'm in a space battle. Yep, our worlds are pretty cool.
Great post. I love fortune cookies, too. I have one that I taped to my computer when I went back to writing after being away for about 8 years that says "you will be unusually successful in business." Thanks, Fae.
"And so it is," right? I believe we get the right fortune at the right time to keep us in the game. Thanks for sharing yours, Penny.
The fortune cookie I have tacked to my wall is: "Your ideas, like your children, are always the best."
Considering I've been a career stay-at-home mother and a writer, I'd say that's about the best fortune I could ask for.
fun fact from my trivia calendar: Fortune cookies aren't Chinese. They weren't even introduced to China until the 1990s. They probably originated in Japan, but were made popular in America. When introduced in China, they didn't catch on because they were "too American."
I love your saved fortune! It is perfect. During my "Japanese Judo" year, I spent most of my time in Little Tokyo in Los angeles and learned that fortune cookies weren't Chinese. (I learned a lot of other stuff as well.) And, yes, when we went to China, there was not a fortune cookie to be found. Thanks for sharing that fun fact with us.
Thanks for the fun post!
Glad you liked it, Terri-Lynne!
Fun post, Fae! The last one I shoved into my wallet after a dinner - "The near future holds a gift of contentment." Really wanted more clarification on what "near future" is though. 🙂
Sorry, Orly. You know I don't do "time zones" well. Something tells me your "near future" is getting closer, though!
Totally correct! You're attending the WFWA Retreat this month. Instant contentment...
My favorite fortune cookie saying: I once wrote a short story about second chances based on a fortune cookie I received that said "Take another fortune cookie." It's a fun exercise for a writing group to write a story based on a fortune cookie's message. Thanks for other ideas in ways you can use the messages in writing. Great post.
I bet that story was fun to write-and read, m45h78s27! Thanks for sharing with us.
Awesome post! What a fun read this morning. Thank you.
Thanks for the smile, Shannon!
I remember one that Howard supposedly got on The Big Bang Theory. "Help! I'm being held prisoner in a fortune cookie factory!" Lol
Well, that makes perfect sense to me, Joseph! Everything cool happens to them.
Then there are people who want the fortune cookie at the beginning of the meal so they know how much the bill is going to be. Lol
I'm meeting friends for lunch today, and guess what? Yep, I'm taking fortune cookies. And we'll eat them as appetizers. Not to find out how much the bill will be, but to get the laughs rolling. Thank goodness my "in bed" friend won't be there! I was very embarrassed the time I got the one that said, "You will be rewarded with fame and fortune because of your good works."
Why yes, I am your "in bed" friend. Or maybe there are two of us...
Plot points could also be something else hidden in the fortune cookie. I can imagine a spy novel where a piece of microfilm is hidden in a fortune cookie. (There was a real life example of microfilm being hidden inside a hollowed out nickel, so it's not that farfetched.) For a romance story, I can imagine a guy hiding an engagement ring in a fortune cookie. Part of the plot could also be that the fortune cookie gets lost, or goes to the wrong person.
Great ideas, Joseph! I've been trying to figure out a way to have something similar to fortune cookies in the way far future "in space," because I could sure incorporate them for humor and plot points, and even character development--you know the resistant character who just won't "go there"? What would be the science fiction equivalent of a fortune cookie? I'm sure you great WITS minds can help me with this one!
Hi Fae. I opened the best or the worst fortune (depending on what day you ask me) the day after my wedding. It read: It's never too late to correct yesterday's mistakes.
Oh my, Stephanie! I hope you got a laugh out of it at the time. That was really the best ever timing. for a great story. Thanks for sharing it with us!
My fave is taped to my wall. "Miracles happen." Then there was the one that said "Buy the red car." It was long forgotten in my purse until after we went car shopping. Guess what? We bought the red one (not my choice, though).
I love your keeper, Barb! Isn't it fun when a long forgotten one turns up at just the right time? (Sorry about the car, though...)
The heroine in my debut novel is a Chinatown fortune-cookie maker who falls in love with a rich Nob Hill heir during the week leading up to the 1906 earthquake and fire that destroys most of San Francisco. The message that plays a pivotal part of the story is: WHEREVER YOU GO, GO WITH ALL YOUR HEART. The one that's on my desk in an antique frame says: YOU HAVE A CHARMING WAY WITH WORDS AND SHOULD WRITE A BOOK. Gotta love fortune cookies!
That's so lovely, Chris!
Yeah, Christopher! How much fun is your book, based on a pivotal fortune cookie message! Can't wait to read it. And your personal keeper. Well, duh...Thanks for sharing your fortunes with us!
After reading your intro I couldn't help adding 'in bed' to your fortune cookie examples. It made me giggle (I must be 12 year old boy at heart). 😉
I had fortune cookies as the bomboniere at my wedding but they didn't say anything particularly clever.
You're making me giggle, littlemissw. How wonderful to have had fortune cookies at your wedding!
When I was in college, I had a party and I made my own fortune cookies. It was fun thinking up fortunes that would work with all my friends, and the cookies are very easy to make. You just need good, oven-proof covers for your hands to work with the cookies right from the heat. Now, I buy mine. There are some companies that make fine cookies, but their fortunes are cliche sayings ("The eyes are the windows to the soul.") so I don't buy theirs. I guess that makes me a fortune cookie snob.
Thanks for reading!
Is the "in bed" a California thing? My neighbors do it.
My out-of-state friends say it, too, Amber. I've lived in California all my life and had never heard it until my British friend shouted it at one of my parties. None of my California friends had heard it before then.
Haha....this is funny:
"If your muse is on vacation, grab a bag of fortune cookies and crack them open."
Not half bad advice!