Tuesday, April 3, 2012
Plateful of Characterization by Andy Scheer
If you are what you eat, what about your novel's characters?
Author James Joyce said, “A writer should know how much change a character has in his pockets.” Supposing that pocket change came from paying for a meal, do you know what your character ate for lunch yesterday?
That meal choice may be a good way to send clues about the character's personality.
This past month I looked at the opening chapters of a novel in which one of the POV characters, a never-married man in his early thirties, always ate the same lunch. Each noon he'd walk to the same restaurant. He never looked at the menu. And he always ordered a roast beef on rye, with horseradish on the side, and a cup of green tea—followed by a slice of blackberry pie.
Without saying anything else, the author offered strong, sensory-evocative clues to his personality.
And based on how the female restaurant manager teased Mr. Roastbeef-on-Rye for his choices, I suspect that if a relationship developed between the two, the author would signal his attitude through his lunch choice.
Baloney, you may say. But there's actually research that links sandwich preferences to personalities. Two years ago a study sponsored by Hellmann's and Best Foods conducted personality tests on 3,000 people, then correlated those findings with the people's preference of eight different sandwiches.
The study found a strong correlation between personalities and sandwich preferences, resulting in horoscope-like conclusions such as these:
Egg Salad: Egg salad enthusiasts are often the center of attention. They are entertaining and crave adventure. The best words to describe those who prefer egg salad sandwich: charming and energetic. Egg salad sandwich lovers are the "universal romantic" and they are often compatible with all sandwich lovers
Bacon, Lettuce & Tomato: BLT lovers are conscientious perfectionists. They are devoted in all areas of their lives: work, home and relationships. The best words to describe those who prefer the BLT sandwich: honest and full of integrity. BLT sandwich lovers are most compatible with those who prefer seafood salad sandwich.
Not to be outdone, this past fall a UK bread maker sponsored a similar study, examined the personalities of 2,000 Brits and determined eight “key sandwich personalities.”
“Personality traits tend to go hand-in-hand with personal habits and routines,” said researcher Dr. Elizabeth Jones. “This allows us to match the type of bread and filling a person chooses to have at lunch with a personality group. Down to earth people go for white bread, foodies prefer sandwich wraps, and people who think realistically pick wholemeal.”
Do you find sandwich studies too limiting? Then conduct your own research—at an upcoming writers conference. Next month at the Colorado Christian Writers Conference (May 16 to 19), the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference (May 20 to 24), or the Write-to-Publish conference (May 30 to June 2), look around your table at meal times. See if you can match what you observe about people's personalities with their eating habits and what they've choose from the cafeteria line. (Write-to-Publish, with food-court options at the Wheaton College dining commons, may offer the most insights.)
Just hope the other conferees haven't read these studies; they may be watching what you eat.