Wednesday, March 11

Posted by Laurel Garver on Wednesday, March 11, 2015 10 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.

image from

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 and 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? What ways have you used food to help build your characterization?


  1. I love this! Although my MC's bare fridge may be more telling of his mother's habits than his own. But there is another character who cooks and always has everything he could possibly need on hand.

    1. Indeed, the fridge will reflect the character of a parent most. It can be a great tool to show us who his mom is in few words, though. Fridges can be a great window of contrast when a teen goes to a friend's house. How different the contents are can show us why s/he and the friend connect. Subtext!

  2. This is so true! I mostly write kid characters, so I focus less on their refrigerators and more on their school lunches and snacks. I like comparing what each character eats.

    1. As I mentioned to Sarah, kid characters learn a lot about themselves/their upbringing through contrast--seeing how different their friends are. How your kid character reacts to the contrast of a friend's household fridge contents--delight, fascination, fear, disgust--shows us what s/he values.

  3. I don't often get into what my characters eat, but I'll keep this in mind.

    1. Food has always been symbolically important, used often in religious ceremonies as a symbol of life-giving. For that reason, it might be worth considering how your characters relate to it, and what role food plays in your fantasy world.

  4. I used an almost empty fridge with edible and inedible leftovers to reflect my MC's solitary and too-busy life.

    1. Great example, LD. The kinds of leftovers were useful for showing too, I imagine.

  5. It's those details that are essential! Loved this.

    1. Thanks, Lee. The decisions we make about what to include in our characters' environment can have useful payoff. Setting is always more than "just stuff."