Monday, May 29, 2017

Coffee, Anybody?


Coffee is consumed in various ways: black, with a dollop of cream or milk, and some people like to add a spoon of honey. Then there is the artisanal coffee movement that regards coffee as an art with its endless possibilities, combinations and complexities.

Are you a coffee drinker? How do you take your coffee? Everybody has their own little quirks when it comes to coffee or any other frequently consumed food or beverage. The famous Ludwig van Beethoven was said to obsessively count out 60 beans of coffee, the perfect amount in his opinion, for every cup he drank.

Even some of our favorite fictional characters are particular about their drink orders. James Bond and his signature vodka martini - shaken, not stirred; Homer Simpson has been drinking Duff beer for over 20 years; JD, from Scrubs and his Appletini; and Jay Gatsby's Gin Rickey, to name a few.

So how does your character take his or her coffee? Find out by inviting your protagonist and/or other central characters to a fictional cafĂ© or fictional bar. Visualize what they do. Pay attention to their little habits. What is your character’s favourite drink? How does he/she make coffee? Is there a preferred method? Some people first add milk or cream. Others prefer to pour their dairy into the cup before the coffee. 

We want our characters to be as close as possible to ‘real, human beings’. Part of being human is possessing these character quirks. The trick is to implement these quirks consistently. What are your character’s habits? What does he/she do throughout the story? Identify settings and activities in which you can show the character’s habits.

How can we use a ‘coffee moment’ to make the story interesting? Increase tension by having someone add more sugar than normal, into their coffee/tea. Or forget to put the sugar in. This could also create a moment of humorous shock as the character, already stressed, takes a sip of that coffee/tea only to find it was not the expected taste. Maybe the character gulps, loses composure and/or knocks over the cup of scalding coffee; or spits the coffee in somebody’s face. Perhaps the restaurant is really busy and the waiter delivers the wrong beverage. This could lead to all sorts of interesting complications, involving the shady-looking character at the next table, who accidentally receives the wrong order.

Do you want to learn more about your characters? Spend some time with them in day-to-day, habitual situations. Notice their responses and how they shine in ordinary situations. Then they will dazzle in those magical moments that make it into your final draft. 

23 comments:

nashvillecats2 said...

Enjoyed the read, thanks for an interesting post.

Yvonne.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Michelle - it's not my favourite occupation ... and I'm not the world's best coffee drinker ... but know that many do - and also people seem to make coffee a part of their lives: I guess the modern age.

Certainly murder mysteries could occur ... from a stroll along a road towards a coffee shop, along an alley nearby ... death by coffee - I'm quite glad I don't have to think about this! That's my non-love of coffee ... but you've certainly given us lots of ideas here ...

Cheers Hilary

Pat Hatt said...

Could always poison their favorite coffee too, get it in there and then the character may drop dead. Hmm counter productive? lol

Those little quirks make them more real indeed

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L. Diane Wolfe said...

I had a coffee moment in one of my books. The main character also liked coffee the way I do - with tons of stuff added to it.

Sandee said...

I love my coffee. It's a must every single morning. One sweet and low and some original coffee mate. No flavored coffee for me.

I've read many authors that can write so well that them explaining making coffee was almost real. I get this.

Have a fabulous day. ☺

Kyra Lennon said...

More recently, I've been thinking a lot about the little details that make a story - great post!

Juneta Key said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Olga Godim said...

I love coffee - black with nothing added. I assume my characters do to, but I never actually explored it. Most of my stories are either traditional fantasy or sci-fi. I'm not sure they have coffee in either milieu. More research required, obviously.

Lynda Dietz said...

I think you can tell a lot about a person by the way he drinks his coffee. Almost all the men I know who are in positions of influence drink theirs black. Maybe age has something to do with it, too . . . when I was much younger, I used cream and sugar because that's what I thought it was supposed to have. Then I tried artificial sweeteners to cut calories and decided they were horrible enough in taste (not knowing then how bad they are in general) that I gave up sweetening my coffee entirely. Now I drink it with just cream most of the time and black once in a while. Even flavored coffees or creamers lose their appeal for me after a few sips. Anyone trying to poison me via coffee would have to be pretty subtle about it.

Juneta Key said...

I come from a coffee drinking family, so it has always played a big role in my life.

For years I drank it black, but the coffee oil started irritating my stomach since I drank several cups a day, so now I add creamer. If I drink a flavored coffee it is generally Hazelnut.

Spending time with my characters and creating character profile dossiers is one of my favorite character and world building things to do. I even do it for the worlds. It helps me visualize better.

Great Post. ' Juneta @ Writer's Gambit

Toinette Thomas said...

My MC has a signature beverage called Green Tea- Coco. It's a comfort item that he turns into a part of his identity. Only those close to him know about.

Robert Bennett said...

An interesting question. I rarely do the long term stories, so we don't get to know the characters that intimately. Still...the concept gives me a consideration to pause on.

Regine Karpel said...

Great.

Sharon M. Himsl said...

What a great idea. I had a friend who always added cream to her coffee but never stirred it in. I admit it kind of bugged me, as I like my coffee one color, thank you. Why, you have to wonder, did she do this?

Fundy Blue said...

Ground them in reality ~ an important point, Michelle! I take my with half and half, and I by half and half by the half gallon! Have a good one!

vishal bheeroo said...

It's an amazing read and thanks for the tips. I am taking notes to make new characters in my struggling novel more down-to-earth. Michelle! It's the stuff that I needed the most.

Cheerio

cleemckenzie said...

One of my crit partners pointed out that I must love hot chocolate because it pops up as a favorite drink in many of my stories. I seldom drink hot chocolate, but it has always seemed like it's a hot beverage someone would turn to for comfort. I've tried not to include it in other books. I don't want to be repetitive. :-)

Loved the post. The best advice is what you've shared. "Spend some time with [your characters]."

diedre Knight said...

Great post and excellent point - "Spend some time..." Morning coffee is an absolute must for me. Though many of my characters drink coffee, none take it the way I do. Maybe they're trying to tell me something ;-) Other idiosyncrasies include the ever-present toothpick, gum-popping and the crinkle of candy-wrappers in Church.

Jen Chandler said...

This is a wonderful post! I'll be inviting my characters for coffee/tea/drinks this summer. It seems like a good time to get to know them better :)

Lux G. said...

Then I think me and my characters should have tea. Not so big a coffee fan. :P

J.L. Campbell said...

Great post, Michelle. Coffee is such a big part of my day, you know some of my characters have to be addicts too. :)

Deb R.H. said...

I've been drinking coffee since I was a little kid, so this speaks to me. haha I don't care what you do with my coffee, as long as it tastes good (though I've cut down on my sugar in it).

I actually have a scene in my current WIP's sequel where my MC and her brother are drinking coffee. He's basically a giant, so he has a steiner, and she's 5'5 at this point in the story, so she has a regular little mug lol. I think he would drink his black, and she would drink hers with sweet cream.