Friday, September 10

Posted by Laurel Garver on Friday, September 10, 2010 12 comments
Jane opens Brenna’s fridge and sees neat rows of French mineral water, bins stuffed with fresh veggies, and hiding behind a row of organic condiments, a half-eaten shoo-fly pie.

Who is Brenna?
A) A Southern grandma who runs Jane's quilting circle.
B) An upwardly-mobile, urban gym-addict who's ashamed of her rural roots.
C) A disorganized, free-spirited artist who rarely remembers to eat.

If you guessed B, then you know that what’s in a character’s fridge tells you a lot about her. Specifically, it can tell you about the following:

relationship to food
Does she love to cook and have lots of interesting ingredients on hand? Does she eat only out of necessity and give little thought to food?

level of tidiness and ability to plan
Is her fridge dirty or sparkling? Is it bare or full enough to feed an army at a moment's notice? Are foods in logical places? Do oddball items find their way inside?

Is she a raw-foods vegan? A junk-food junkie? All organic? Cares only if the food is quick and tasty?

level of sophistication
Does she eat only plain, all-American foods or does she try cuisines from all over the world?

socioeconomic status (or strivings)
Is her food pricey foreign imports, middle-America name brands or cheap generics?

willingness to indulge herself
Does she allow herself a tiny pint of Ben & Jerry’s or a freezer full of it? Does she have a freezer-burned 5-gallon vat of generic vanilla ice cream because it’s a “good value”?

spending priorities
Does she skimp on one food category to spend more on another? Is eating organic more important than, say, having cable TV? Does she stick to only WIC-covered items?

ethnic or socioeconomic background
Does she keep specialized ingredients on hand from a particular culture? What are her childhood comfort foods she hides?

place on the traditional to trendy spectrum
Does she have Tupperware containers of leftover tuna-noodle casserole or cartons of takeout from the hip Vietnamese place? Ranch dip or hummus? String beans or edamame?

What's in your character's fridge? How can you use this exercise to know your character better, even if a fridge peek would never fit your story?
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  1. This is a great exercise! I need to give it a try, thanks!

  2. LOL! I always look at what the person in front of is buying at the can tell so much by what people buy!!

  3. This is awesome!!! I'm going to do this. BTW love how you've decorated for fall. The place looks great!

  4. I guessed B, so you did a great job. I haven't done the fridge peek yet with my character, but I might. :)

  5. What a great exercise! So telling. I'm going to have to do this.

  6. I agree - great exercise and a good tip.

  7. Great question!

    My characters live in Steampunk England - they've got milk, eggs, cheese and meat pasties. Nothing too decadent because they're on the poor side - but they are inventive - they designed the fridge :)

  8. My character doesn't have a fridge. She has to eat in the "victuals" room every day, where she does her best to down the "essentials ration."

  9. Good idea. I've never considered what's in my character's refrigerator.

  10. Karen: also good for a quick snapshot of a secondary character.

    Stephanie: Yup, so true!

    T. Anne: Have fun with it. And glad you like the new look.

    Laura: there's great applicability to contemporary MG with this exercise. Pre-teen sleepovers are one of the first times you get a window into another family's values and inner workings--a simple fridge peek tells you you're not at home any more.

    Janet: have fun with it.

  11. Holly: I'm using it to develop a secondary character and finding myself spying in others' carts at the store to make sure I'm getting it right.

    Jemi: I love how you eagerly adapt these contemporary fic ideas for you steampunk setting. But indeed, the food choices will tell you loads--meat pastries, not pheasant under glass, for example, situates them perfectly.

    Candice: Love it! You've given a perfect snapshot of where food fits in your character's culture. It's fast, purely functional with no art or taste--something to endure like getting shots.

    Roxy: How your MC views what is in another's fridge can also be pretty telling.

    Victoria: I'm always eager to share ideas for showing rather than telling key things about characters. Hope it proves useful.