Sipping Your Way to Inspiration: Your Characters as Beverages
By Shelly X Leonn
No matter how hard I try, I can’t sit still while I’m writing. I wish I could resemble that portrait of Phyllis Wheatley, index finger artfully placed on her cheek as she gazes into space, pulling her inspiration from the ocean of her own brilliance.
Nope, I have to look like a crazy person when I write. I squirm in my chair, gesticulate and pantomime, spurt out lines of dialogue, and make awkward eye contact with other people unfortunate enough to be in my vicinity.
I tell myself I do all of these things because my stories get me amped up. But truthfully, I’ve never been the best at staying in one place for long periods. Which is, of course, precisely what you have to do if you want to write anything.
Through the years, I’ve adopted a couple of strategies to help me cope with my incurable case of the wiggles. One of them is providing myself with multiple fidgets. No, not that kind of fidget. It would look a little odd for a 36-year-old professor mom to be flicking at a spinner. I choose more socially acceptable items and tasks to occupy my hands and mouth as I write. And my favorite, most effective, and tastiest fidget is sipping at beverages.
*literally sips tea* <.< *drafts next sentence*
Beverages are awesome. They’re better for my health than a bag of chips. (By the way, I’m also guilty of snacking while writing.) They give me an excuse to lounge around in coffee shops, like Protagonist Cafe here in St. Louis. And they can also serve as a fount of inspiration.
Have you ever seen those social media posts where you choose a food or drink to match your family members and friends? I play that game all the time, but instead of real people, I use my fictional characters. I’ve found this to be a fun metaphor for analyzing a character’s personality. Also, if I’m writing a scene with a particular character, I can prepare that drink and sip at it as I brainstorm.
Below, I’ll provide some of my beverage examples. You, youthful writer, may have your own connections to make with your own creative babies. These ideas are here just to get you started.
Vanilla latte: A quality vanilla latte doesn’t taste like a hot milkshake. The espresso should pop through the layers of sweetness. This drink can be paired with a character who is pleasant and unassuming on the outside, but intense and focused on the inside. The antagonist version would be the alpha-perfect prep girl of every high school nightmare.
Black tea: This bitter brew is best suited for characters who are no-nonsense. Other characters might find this person a bit too blunt or humorless, but the black tea character can also be reliable and dependable. The villain version would be sarcastic and cruel but also logical.
Milk: Who doesn’t like a tall glass of milk now and then? Nutritious, satisfying, and comforting, milk has been a staple in our lives since we were infants. The character version could be a parental figure—someone who is nurturing, loving, and protective. A milk antagonist could be a mother figure whose love is horribly misplaced, such as on the monster she has claimed as her own.
Pina colada mocktail: The pina colada mocktail characters are the life of the party. They are very social and are always open to trying new things. Sometimes, they may be a bit obnoxious. Also, they may come across to the popular clique as someone who is trying too hard. But ultimately, the mocktails are so bubbly, you can’t stay annoyed at them for long. As a bad character, the mocktail could be the enthusiastic, overzealous follower of the more brainy leader.
Dirty chai: This is my personal favorite drink, and it’s also my favorite type of character to write. A dirty chai is a conglomeration of many ingredients, so the resulting taste can be overwhelming and confusing. These drinks pair best with characters who are trying to figure themselves or are going through periods of intense transformation. A villain dirty chai may give in to temptation and do something terribly wrong, like steal from a best friend.
Orange juice: Something about drinking a tall glass of orange juice after my early morning run makes me feel like I actually have my stuff together. The orange juice character, therefore, should be the character with the checklists, To-Do lists, and life goals planned for the next fifteen years. They are driven and ambitious, but they are also usually likable, as they find time in their busy schedules to help their friends and family succeed alongside them. The orange juice villain could be the character who appears perfect on the surface but is secretly plotting someone else’s disaster in secret.
Hot chocolate: In my humble opinion, every story needs at least one hot chocolate character. Any of these characters could serve as your hot chocolate, depending on how you write them. But this character, as I’m sure you’ve already guessed, is your dessert. He/she/they should be attractive to just about everyone they encounter. They are the characters your readers will someday write fanfictions about. They should be written the same way hot chocolate tastes—smooth, creamy, and delicious.
I hope you had time to simmer on this concept. It has served me well, helping me to boil up fresh thoughts when my creativity has run dry. OK, no more puns. It’s time to end this post. I have some writing and sipping to do.
Dr. Michelle M. Haberberger is the author of The Broken Series under her pen name—Shelly X. Leonn. After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in journalism, Michelle worked at her hometown newspaper. During her time advising the youth staff, Michelle realized her true calling was to teaching. Her twelve years in St. Louis City education were spent in language arts classrooms as well as in mid-level administration. She is now an adjunct professor for a local university and the development manager devoted to amplifying the voices of marginalized youth. She and her best friend, L.L. Montez, co-host the podcast The Writers XL.