Plateful of Characterization

If you are what you eat, what about your novel’s characters?

Author James Joyce said, “A writer should know how much change a character has in his pockets.” If that change came after paying for lunch, do you know what your character ate?

That meal may be an opportunity to reveal clues about the character’s personality.

I recently read the opening chapters of a novel in which a never-married man in his early thirties always ate the same lunch at the same restaurant. Without consulting the menu he always ordered a roast beef sandwich on rye, horseradish on the side, and a cup of green tea — followed by a slice of blackberry pie.

With those details, the author offered sensory-evocative clues to his personality.

Based on how the female restaurant manager teased Mr. Roastbeef-on-Rye for his choices, I suspect that if a relationship were to develop, the author would signal his attitude through his lunch choice.

Baloney, you may say. But research links sandwich preferences to personalities. A few years ago Hellmann’s and Best Foods conducted personality tests on 3,000 people, then correlated those findings with their preference of eight different sandwiches.

The study found a strong correlation between personalities and sandwich preferences, resulting in horoscope-like conclusions such as:

Egg Salad enthusiasts are often the center of attention. They are entertaining and crave adventure. The best words to describe them: charming and energetic. Egg salad sandwich lovers are the “universal romantic,” and they are often compatible with all sandwich lovers.

Bacon, Lettuce & Tomato lovers are conscientious perfectionists. They are devoted in all areas of their lives: work, home, and relationships. The best words to describe them: honest and full of integrity. BLT sandwich lovers are most compatible with those who prefer seafood salad sandwiches.

Not to be outdone, a UK bread maker examined 2,000 Brits and determined eight “key sandwich personalities.”

Researcher Dr. Elizabeth Jones says, “Down to earth people go for white bread, foodies prefer sandwich wraps, and people who think realistically pick wholemeal” (the British term for whole-wheat).

Conduct your own research the next time you eat with coworkers. See if you can match what you know about their personalities with what they order.

But if they’ve read these studies, they may be watching what you eat.

Guild editor-in-chief Andy Scheer is also a freelance editor and an agent with Hartline. He really likes a good Reuben sandwich.

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