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Character Traits and Real Life

  • January 16, 2017
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Author Dorothy L. Sayers couldn’t stand brandy—but her main character, Lord Peter Wimsey, liked it, and people kept offering it to her, assuming that she liked it as well. It was a compliment of sorts (although probably a bit exasperating for her) that people assumed such a fine detail must be true for the author as well.

How much of ourselves do we, as writers, put into our stories? While I haven’t eaten meat in years, I have no problem with my characters drooling over a hamburger. They are what they are.

But it also makes sense to use similarities as well, simply because we know the topic and no research is necessary. (That could also be a form of laziness, but only the writer knows when it is.) I wear glasses, so creating a character who wears glasses is easy. I know the mannerisms and daily routine of wearing them. It’s easy to slip that detail into a story without creating a fuss.

But food and drink are a more primal force. I love Italian food, so making a few of my characters meet at a pizza place and describing the aroma of garlic and oregano is a pleasure. I doubt I would feel comfortable dealing with a character who relished pickled pigs feet.

How far do you go when writing your character’s likes and dislikes? Would you have them eat or drink something you’re allergic to, for example, or something you really hate?

And what would you do, if you were in the position of other people assuming a particular like to be yours and serving it to you?


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