It Builds Character

When I first started writing I remember everyone talked about character sheets. I’m sure you have heard of them even if you haven’t seen them. They are basically biographical profiles that you fill in about your characters.

  • Name:
  • Nicknames/alias:
  • Birthdate:
  • Location of birth:
  • Parent’s names:
  • Parent’s locations of birth:
  • Occupation:
  • Other relevant details:

The list goes on. I’ve seen some that go on for pages. By the time I completed the dossier I was beginning to wonder what crime the character committed. Don’t get me wrong sometimes I would get ideas for my story as I worked out my character sheet. And it is helpful to know certain things about your character.

I am still not a fan of the sheets.

I will however use a whiteboard to make a few notes. If I have a character with a scar, I make sure to put whether it is on the left or right side of the face. If something comes up that I’ll need to remember, I put it on the whiteboard. Each of the main characters end up with about five or six bullet points under them by the time I’m done.

However sometimes you need to spend a little time with your characters, learning a little but about them.One of my favorite ways of doing this is to ask one simple question.

What is in the fridge?

I know it sounds silly, but that is my favorite question to help me figure out my characters. Does my character have a fridge full of all organic produce from the market? Is the fridge full of left over take out containers? is the fridge completely empty and the freezer stocked with pre prepared frozen smoothies?

I generally find that if I am trying to learn about a character, answering this question tells me a lot about them.

Lucinda has a fridge full of fresh ingredients she picked up at the farmers market. Nothing is pre prepared and nothing is over a week old. Her farmers market is held every week and she makes certain to shop only for what she will use that week. There is no meat, but there are several cheeses from the local goat farm right outside of town. There is also a small bowl of mismatched eggs. Pinned to the fridge is the week’s meal plan made after she returned from the market with her fresh ingredients.

By contrast I could look at James from my Fifteen Minute Novel Posts.

James has a fridge containing one or two containers of left overs from high end restaurants where he dined with clients. He thinks of the containers in terms of clients names. John from Marston Ltd instead of Madison’s Steak house, Keith from Cannova, Inc instead of The Ginger Palace. In addition he has several bottles of expensive white wines that he placed in the fridge because he never got around to installing a wine fridge and a carton of milk he uses for his morning cereal. He keeps his cereal in a plastic bin in the fridge as well. He pours it into the plastic container and throws away the box. he claims it stays fresher that way but in reality he doesn’t want it immediately obvious that his breakfast cereal of choice is Cocoa Puffs.

Looking at either of their fridges gives me a little but of insight into these characters. The old saying is ‘you are what you eat.’ While what you personally eat or currently have in your fridge, may or may not reflect your worldview, life choices and personal insecurities, with fictional characters it can give you insight into your characters. the fact that James not only eats Cocoa Puffs for breakfast every morning, but that he feels a little silly about his choice tells me much more about James than the fact that he has brown hair and brown eyes. Even if I never mention the cereal in the story, knowing it, will help me know James.

If your character doesn’t have a kitchen or a fridge, then try What is in the medicine cabinet (or bathroom shelf of shower) or empty out their night stand, closet or even coat pockets. This exercise can be tweaked depending on the character and the world you have put them in. Fridge can be turned into larder in a fantasy world. Closet can be exchanged for rucksack. Find something that is essentially a personal space, and figure out what your character would put there or carry inside and then explain why.

Does Lucinda love to cook? Did she have a cancer scare and is now terrified of any processed contaminants? Did she have a bad experience at the grocery store and refuse to ever return? Did the only grocery store in her area burn down and the farmer’s market is her only option?

Figuring out what is in the fridge as well as why and what your character does with it helps you see your character more clearly, even if none of what you decide to place in the fridge makes it into your final story. Personally, I find it is a much better way to figure out a character than filling in a form. You will still need to know if they have brown hair and brown eyes, but this is a good way to peep inside their mind and their life. And it can tell you so much about them

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