by Molly Jo Realy @MollyJoRealy
You can tell a lot about a person by the way he or she eats, especially on a first date. Can I get a whoot-whoot nod of appreciation here?
Seriously. Think about it. Are they delicate? Do they play with their food? Do they take time to savor every bite? Or do they get right to masticating their steak? Do they take a bite of everything with one forkful? Or push the foods away from each other? Do they douse the meal with salt and other seasonings? Load up with butter? Or take it as it is? If they’re at a restaurant, do they look at the menu, ask for the daily specials, or just suggest their own version of what’s available? What type of restaurant is their favorite? Do they care that you’re at the table with them?
Whether you’re just starting to write them, or are introducing them to your best friend-reader, meeting characters is a lot like taking them on a first date to your favorite restaurant. Some of them will fit right in and know how to act. Others will take their cue from observation. And still others won’t care what anyone thinks.
Because writing is a holistic discovery that includes all the senses, taking your peeps to dinner is essential. Now, I mean this both figuratively and literally. Pros will tell ya, adding good food (like, oh, I dunno, coffee and beignets or maybe a specialty gelato) into your manuscript draws the reader in with something they can recognize. More than just for survival, food triggers emotions and memories. It can do the same for your characters, and lead them through their journey of discovery.
You can also use the #foodie reference by asking, “How would my character eat a Junior’s Cheesecake?” or “Do they fold their pizza in half?” Knowing how your characters eat will help you write them more accurately:
- Someone who is afraid of sushi doesn’t often go parasailing
- A traditional Christmas dinner leads to a character reminiscing and embracing heritage
- Does your character thoughtfully sip their coffee or talk with their mouth full?
- If your guy is willing to grab a coffee and hot dog from a street vendor, he may be more adventurous than his friend who wipes down the handle of the grocery cart before shopping
- When your gal pal dunks her shortbread into a cup of hot tea, she might be willing to check out the new movie or bookstore, but less likely to go nightclubbing
- Do they drink beer from a glass or a bottle? Do they abstain?
- Is there an after-dinner cigarette involved? Or a stroll under street lamps?
- Do they prefer a solid, four-course meal or do they pick snacks and finger foods from the buffet?
- And what about dessert? Pie? Cake? Cupcakes? Chocolate? All of the above?
Giving your character the opportunity to express themselves through dialogue over a table of good food gives you the opportunity to show their mannerisms (and their manners!), and behavior patterns. How do they talk to those around them- waiters, patrons, tablemates? Do they order too much, leave food on the plate, eat from everyone else’s dish?
These are all insights that, whether you write them into your story or not, will give you the information you need to create a character your readers will relate to. And once they relate, they may even turn the page for that ever-sought-after second date.
[Look for The Character Cookbook by Molly Jo Realy, coming soon.]
Meeting characters is a lot like taking them on a first date to your favorite restaurant.
With a coffee cup and a dinner date,
And Frankly, My Dear . . . : That’s all she wrote!