novelist at work

Need Inspiration for Characters? Go Grocery Shopping!

novelist at work

My advice to writers: when you need inspiration for character development or interpersonal engagement, don’t take a walk in nature or meditate or declutter your work space — go to the grocery store. And go with a shopping list, so you look legit. 

The basic layout: 

There might be a greeter. At our local store, our greeter is this amazing friendly, loving man named James. 

People on their lunch break look like an accidental gathering of introverts, all attempting to be alone, albeit in mass.

Elderly couples abound. It’s likely their big outing for the day (or week). Each has their own cart. They each move slowly. If I was in a massive hurry, I’d be losing my shit, but I’m not, and find creative ways to navigate the sloth shoppers.

A father walking with his adult son who evidently has developmental concerns. They share the same gait, are wearing the same coat, only different shades of neutral. They are wearing the same shoes, socks, and pants. 

The guys in the meat department promises to de-bone my order of chicken thighs (keeping the skin) in five minutes. I urge them to take their time since they are utilizing a sharp object. The interaction between these two men is one of mutual respect. The dude in the seafood area should be taking notes.

Observation of one elderly couple: the husband is cruising around in a powered wheelchair with the basket in front and is being obstinately bossy to his wife, who is pushing her own cart and ignoring said husband’s commands. “You’re almost there! You’re on top of it! THERE! THERE! TURN!“, directs the aggressive husband, fully ignored by his wife. With an expression of contempt, he peels off in an oppositional aisle (very accurate double entendre). As this dude takes a hard left directly in front of me, causing me to stop on a dime, I am promptly cut off by yet another motorized wheelchair patron.

At the Starbucks counter, the barista is obnoxiously kind. I give him a generous tip.

The human interactions of people selecting and buying food are quite personal. What someone has in their cart is quite telling of their life. With couples, the nuances of their relationship and how they converse with one another while seemingly accomplishing the mundane, speaks volumes.

Witnessing the human experience of individuals interacting in the mundane may not be significant to a casual observer, you must pay attention to capture the nuance. It’s worth it!

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