This afternoon, a member of my writing group (ok, not my group, by I do belong to it) posted a question for the other members:
What would your main character order on his/her pizza?
My first thought was ‘what a silly question.’ My second thought was that the first thought was wrong. It was an excellent question. Many authors have a character reference sheet that lists their characters’ physical and personality traits. Some are very basic, many are very long. Few, however, go deeper than asking for ‘likes/dislikes,’ ‘habits,’ and ‘weaknesses.’
Occasionally, though, a character will be in a position to make simple choices that say a lot about them. What do they like on their pizza? What book is he reading? What kind of furniture does she buy for her apartment? Handled right, these simple choices can show more about a character than a full descriptive paragraph.
“Whisky sour,” she told the bartender, then nodded to the stranger. He picked up his beer and slid onto the stool next to her.
While his friends hit the surf Bob stayed in the sand, planting himself under an umbrella and reading Jaws.
The tourist stomped out of the New York pizzeria, angry that she couldn’t get french fries on her pizza.
I often use music as cues to my characters. In one short story, I had a college-age Antichrist conduct some self-reflection while listening to Dark Side of the Moon. My bar bitch selected two Alan Jackson songs on a jukebox. Satan is also a character in a work-in-progress; if it comes up, he’s a big fan of 70’s trucker music.
Even if not used within the story, these cues are often an important part of the character’s background, and a good way to better develop a full-rounded figure. If you don’t know what he or she likes to eat, drink or read, then you may question whether you have a fully-developed character.
If you’re currently writing a character, can you answer these questions?
Which television shows does he watch?
What does she eat for breakfast?
Where does he go on vacation?
What does she read at the beach/pool?
Who is his celebrity crush?
What’s her favorite breakfast cereal?
What kind of pet would he own. What breed?
What’s the most-played song on her mp3 player?
After dinner, what does he have for dessert?
For the record, the Antichrist prefers white pizza, with basil, spinach and/or arugula. Yuppie scum.