This post is by Jessica Baverstock.
When it comes to describing our characters’ houses, belongings, and preferences, it’s easy to cut corners. We may write in our personal preference or just the first thing we think of. These descriptions provide insights into your character’s mind. Done well, they can be an excellent opportunity to show instead of tell.
I came to a better understanding of how easily belongings reveal personalities during a recent house-sitting gig. I was referred by a friend so I knew little about the people whose house I’d be inhabiting for a month. As a writer, I reveled in the fun of using my deductive powers to piece together a description of the occupants from their belongings.
Most of the things I learned didn’t require intrusive sleuthing (I didn’t open mail or flick through childhood photo albums). In fact, I could have discovered these details during only a casual visit. Often it’s the simplest things that give the greatest insights.
As a house-sitter, I particularly noticed three specific types of belongings. Following are just a few areas where your character’s choices can reveal a wealth of information.
Your Character’s Books
A person’s choice of reading material often reveals his interests, concerns, and habits. His shelves may be stocked with romance novels, thrillers, or historical fiction, giving you insight into his favorite genres. He may collect a series of books or favor a particular author.
Books on back pain, diet plans, or other medical topics can reveal concerns the person may have. Book choices can also reveal hobbies like birdwatching, woodwork, and knitting. There may be children’s books tucked away in a corner, implying this house receives little visitors from time to time.
A person’s selection of books will be unique to him and will usually tell you his story.
Give it a go: Visit your local library or browse an online bookstore. Choose three books that reveal your main character’s interests.
Your Character’s Knick-Knacks
Anything a person has on display tells you about his values. Photographs are the most obvious example of this. Pictures of holidays, family members, and other events show what this person wants to remember.
Souvenirs also show either places this person has visited or gifts they have received from other travelers (the trick is to tell which ones are which).You can often tell a person’s preference for countries and cultures based on the items he has displayed around his home. Where these items are placed, and how well they are cared for, can provide you clues as to the memories these objects hold and how highly the person values them.
Give it a go: Describe three items your character has on display in his home. Make sure each item connects somehow to your story or your character’s values.
Your Character’s Food and Cleaning Products
The items a person buys to care for himself and his house can show his mindset on health and the environment. If his shelves are stocked with health food and many items are labeled “low fat” and “low salt,” then you can surmise this person takes his health seriously. If the fridge has leftovers from takeaway meals, then this person may be too busy with other concerns to be thinking about what’s best for his body. Items like gluten-free products reveal dietary restrictions.
Cleaning products are also interesting. Does this person choose the more expensive products that are labeled as environmentally friendly? Or do they have high perfumed products that claim to kill everything? None of these choices are necessarily right or wrong. The point is, what are these choices telling you about your character’s mindset?
Give it a go: The next time you go shopping, make a note of five items your main character would purchase. What goes through your character’s mind when he’s choosing what to buy?
About the Author: Jessica Baverstock is a writer who is fascinated by the creative process. She blogs at Creativity’s Workshop where her creativity writes in purple text. Her latest e-book Creativity on Demand covers how writers can access their creativity whenever and wherever they need inspiration.