Many writers’ initial forays into a new story involve pages and pages of writing that never end up in the finished work. While this can be an important process to help the writer get a firm handle on the story and its characters, it can be difficult to throw out those hard-fought words once they’re actually on the page.
Out in the real world, one way get to know someone a little better is to invite them over for dinner. The same approach could be used for getting to know a character in your story. Even better, why not host a banquet for your story’s entire cast? The more the merrier!
Okay, let’s assume you’ve drawn up a the guest list and the imaginary invitations have all been sent.
Here are some things you’ll want to pay attention to as your fictional evening unfolds:
How did each of your “guests” come dressed for the occasion? Jacket and tie? Formal evening gown? Jeans and a T-shirt? Pajamas?
Who had their hair (or make-up) done especially for the occasion? Who looked like they didn’t even bother to shave?
Did anyone come straight from work? What do they do? Did anyone REALLY need a shower?
Which of your guests arrived on time for dinner? Was anyone late? Why?
Who took the time to RSVP? Did anyone simply show up at your door expecting to be fed?
Who knew what to do with their napkin? Did anyone tuck it into their collar? Who didn’t bother using a napkin at all?
Did anyone constantly talk with their mouth full? Any picky eaters who merely pushed their food around on their plate?
Did anyone try to make off with the silverware when no one was looking?
Who seemed to dominate the conversation? What did they talk about? Did anyone sit quietly listening and trying not to be noticed?
Did anyone go out of their way to avoid talking to anyone else in particular?
Were there any heated discussions? Full-blown arguments (possibly involving projectile food)? What were they about?
Which of your guests seemed glad to be there? Who looked like they’d rather be somewhere else?
How did your guests arrange themselves? Who sat together? Did anyone presume to sit at the head of the table?
Did anyone wear out their welcome and have to be asked to leave? Who looked like they couldn’t wait to go home?
Which foods did your guests eat? Are any vegetarians on the guest list? Vegans? Did any of them seem to be hungrily eyeing the other guests instead?!
Did anyone uninvited turn up at your door? (New characters! Yay!)
Did any new relationships form you hadn’t anticipated?
By putting your characters into a situation they’re unlikely to encounter within your story, you’re sure to gain some insights into your characters you might never have had otherwise. You might even discover some ideas that will take your story in new and unexpected directions. Best of all, by creating an experience completely outside of your story, you won’t have to face throwing away part of your story you might miss when you’re finished.
Still, let’s be honest. If you know already you’ll be tempted to try to somehow incorporate this new banquet scene into your story, do yourself a favor; be sure to use disposable dishes and plastic flatware (recyclable of course!) when you set the table.
Just in case.