[The Story] Shopping With Characters

Over my years of writing these essays about “The Story,” essays, and even Novel 01, I’ve realized that there is a difference between looking for writing inspiration and being “in it.” When interviewers ask writers about where they get their inspiration, they mean well, but they’re not asking the question well. It’s not like we sit alone in a dark room and these ideas appear… Maybe sometimes… It’s more likely we’ll go shopping with our characters.

Spoilers?: Minor [grocery shopping brainstorming]

Let’s take how I go grocery shopping as an example.

If we’re talking about your big name American supermarkets, I’ll walk a route like this: clothes first, electronics, books, music, videogames and videogame accessories, toys, dry foods, then refrigerated foods. If I have more time, I’ll look around more. If I have less time, then I’ll cut stops out of this route. Doing something predictable like this with some repetition might be boring, but building in that repetition allows my mind to relax since I don’t need to plan as much in the moment. Especially when I bring a shopping list that follows that order, then I can make sure to get all of my essential items or nice-to-haves without backtracking much.

How does supermarket logistics help with writing, though?

Well, I start in the clothes section because it helps me consider how John and Trishna might go clothing shopping. They aren’t the sorts of characters that are interested in stylish, expensive clothing and it’s difficult enough for them to get out, so they’d prefer an efficient option. There are many negative stigmas around going to supermarkets – they drive out local businesses, they only serve the richest individuals, and they only have the lowest quality items. These are all fine, but for me, I don’t quite “roleplay” as John or Trishna, but rather, I like to imagine what they would do and how they would compromise on things. I don’t see them as being overly concerned with those stigmas.

They’d probably enjoy looking at new clothes and getting groceries in one stop.

They might go to a mall with a few specialty stores if it’s available, but otherwise, they’d probably prefer going to a one-stop-shop place to buy some new clothes, any kind of popular media that might be sold there, along with their groceries. Convenience wins out sometimes. Especially over the past few months where I’ve had limited mobility, I can appreciate that convenience now more than ever. If I only have the energy to go to one place, I’d rather get everything in one go than go around to multiple places.

How do your characters go grocery shopping?

John and Trishna might only go shopping anywhere between once a week and once a month, depending on what part of “The Story” we’re considering. If it’s when they’re still living at Trishna’s parents’s home, they’d go shopping with her parents, or go out on their own to places on dates or anything else. In college, and after graduation, Trishna’s parents would probably bring over a grocery item or two when they visit, but otherwise, they’d probably keep enough at home to where they wouldn’t need to go out a whole lot. That’s a rather boring thought to consider at length, right?

Well, that’s why that “inspiration” question from the introduction is deceptive.

There are striking moments of inspiration where I realize lengthy scenes with my characters, but more often, I’ve found that inspiration is more of a slow reveal. When I went to the supermarket most recently, I didn’t think of every aspect of this essay or much about John and Trishna. I might only think of them for a moment as I’m looking at shirts or pants. They might go look at clothes for Trishna, and she might ask him about which color he likes better, and the same for John. Trishna might see a shirt that she really likes for John. I consider these more of “quiet moments” that don’t fit well within the Hollywood Blockbuster Supermarket short-attention-span best-selling aesthetic that we’ve found ourselves within for storytelling, but they’re the moments that I value more when I read stories.

I like the “striking moments,” too, for sure.

Those are the moments we remember most in stories, but it’s not like John and Trishna are finding themselves in striking moments of conflict on a daily basis. When I write “The Story,” it will be at the pace it needs to be, regardless of how long it takes to write. When I consider stories that are written for the sort of best-selling aesthetic, they’re often written about cartoon characters of myths that go on incredible adventures. That’s fine and sometimes even inspirational. What about the normal, everyday heroes that just go about their lives? John and Trishna aren’t particularly noteworthy people when “The Story” begins. Maybe they will by the end, maybe they won’t, but that’s an appealing notion for me. What if they end up as a humble couple, married and settled down somewhere, without any major conflicts to occupy their minds?

Compared to the turmoil of current events and reality, that’d be a nice conflict…

So let’s meander back on-topic a bit. I could imagine why this “inspiration” question gets comical or otherwise confused answers. How can one summarize years of fiction-writing practice in a 30-second radio bite? If the answer were ‘years of walking around with my characters as I see how they develop’ isn’t appealing. That sounds like too much work, but to conclude this essay, that’s why I haven’t dedicated much of my vocational efforts to doing much more than I’ve been doing. I don’t have the energy to learn how to program or learn other skills at length, unless necessary, or the skill is an extension of something I currently know. It’s not like I’m lazy. It’s more like I need to dedicate large portions of my brain’s “hard drive space” to fiction-writing and writing “The Story.”

What occupies your brain’s hard drive?

Quotes: None.
Sources: The Story’s Imaginarium.
Inspirations: I wasn’t sure what to write for this weekend’s essays set. I was washing the mug I use for the breakfast biscuits I eat with my coffee every morning, thinking about “The Story,” and wondering back to last week and how I hadn’t had much inspiration. I’d been rather sick but I’m feeling better now. Well, as I was washing that mug, I thought about how a big part of writing isn’t that you embody or become your characters, but rather, you can be around them. I might be the third-person camera that follows John and Trishna around to the grocery store or as they wash their dishes. I might even imagine myself as their friend tagging along. This is how I write my fiction.
Related: Essays building “The Story.”
Picture: Template
Written On: 2020 October 17 [1:43pm to 2:20pm]
Last Edited: 2020 October 17 [First draft; final draft for the Internet.]


My big goal is writing. My most important goal is writing "The Story." All other goals should work toward that central goal. My proudest moment is the most recent time I overcame some fear, which should have been today. I'm a better zombie than I was yesterday. I'm not better than you and you're not better than me. Let's strive to be better every day.