The Literary Merit of the Grilled Cheese Sandwich
A couple of days ago, I had a meeting with C in which we discussed (among many things) grilled cheese sandwiches, and how they can tell us about characters. C uttered the fateful statement, “If you want to write an article about grilled cheese as a medium for characterization, go for it.”
The manner in which an individual Krafts a grilled cheese sandwich can give us more information about them than you may think. This is because anything a person does, when considered in a certain light, can reveal parts of their character. When you are a writer, this maxim becomes even more true. Let’s take a look at why this could be.
- The words on the page are all you have. When you meet people in the “real” world, you have the opportunity to ask them all sorts of questions. What’s their family like? What sort of music do they listen to? What’s their favorite book? How do they go about making a grilled cheese sandwich? You get the idea. In a written story, however, the reader does not have that luxury. All the reader has to go on is what you, the writer, has put there. For this reason, every word you write has the potential to give the reader the information about the character that they so desperately crave. Therefore, in any scene, regardless of subject matter, you can do wonders for characterization by using vivid details and events. Check out this recent post for more characterizing with detail (and lots of other stuff).
- Characterization is an ongoing process. Plenty of writers, when introducing a character, will drop a paragraph or two of physical description and maybe list a couple of character traits. That’s a start, but there is much more to be done. Everything a character does throughout the entire story introduces her and gives the reader a little bit more information about her. It’s an absolutely worthwhile endeavor to create a situation that will give your reader plenty of information about a character, like, say, creating a grilled cheese sandwich. Remember, you know the character well, but your reader doesn’t. Everything she does is going to be analyzed by your peckish readers as they try to get more information about this character. Now, all of this is building up to something…
- Show, don’t tell. I know, you’re so annoyed with this. People mention it all the time and it’s at the point where you don’t care anymore. Just hold on. Putting in a seemingly unrelated scene for the sake of characterization is a great way to show your character without telling about them. Let the character really thrive and show off all of his interesting traits and quirks (and, if you’re using a first-person narrator, his voice). You also might not make this a solitary activity. Maybe you have two characters who try to make sandwiches together, and they joke with each other and make sarcastic remarks, or they get into a serious disagreement about the right kind of cheese to use, thus showing a stress on their relationship.
- Take liberties. Making the sandwich is only the beginning. There’s a whole lot that goes into it apart from the marriage of cheese and bread. Why is the character even making the sandwich? What sort of cheese did he use (did he make the effort to leave home to get fancy cheese, or did he just go with Whiz or something he had on hand?) Did she remember to grease the pan? Does he decide to get creative and add some tomato, or some avocado? Maybe she got the recipe out of the cookbook but chose to ignore the advice. These tendencies make your characters much more realistic. A characterization scene gives you more leeway than a regular scene because it isn’t a critical moment in terms of plot. You can have it go any way you want without wreaking havoc on the rest of the events in the story, and so it can be engineered to match the characterization that you’re looking for.
- It doesn’t have to go in. You can use something like this as an exercise as well. If you’re having trouble writing your character, try a couple of random scenes to get a feel for how he moves around in the world and how he handles various situations. As always, feel free to cut and edit liberally, but the writing of a scene like this has its merits in the sense that you can put it in the narrative (or not) and not worry about its effect on everything else. Practice makes perfect, and writing a scene about a sandwich is just one way of getting a feel for your character.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, “that made a surprising amount of sense, but I wish I could see an example.” To this, I say no. Instead, I’d rather have the examples come from all of you, our lovely and talented followers. What? An article and a prompt all in one? You betcha. Here we go:
Write a scene about your character making a grilled cheese sandwich. Feel free to write as your character, or the character’s friend, or an omniscient narrator, or whoever. Tell your reader as much as you can about that character in the time it takes to make the sandwich.
I (hungrily) await your responses. Please tag them with writeworld so that everyone can see them!
Also, if you’re interested in more prompts and scenarios to explore your characters, be sure to check out FYCD’s regular prompt sprees.