Developing Characters: What's in a Mug?
In developing characters, consider mugs. Coffee mugs. Teacups. Travel mugs. Goblets. Skulls. Beverage vessels could reveal interesting things about a character without beating readers over their heads with a lot of telling. A simple, everyday item that most of us don’t give much thought to can be a useful writer’s tool.
Here’s a pic of my favorite mug, and what it might tell someone about me.
o Its large size reveals that I like big portions, and maybe drink too much coffee. Both true.
o The apple might make you think of teachers, and yes, I used to be one.
o A closer look shows that the handle’s been glued on, so either I’m too cheap to replace a broken mug or it’s special to me. Actually, both are true.
My husband Joe’s favorite work mug is large, red, and covered in pixelated Star Wars characters, lined up like the attacking ships in Space Invaders.
o Duh, he’s a Star Wars fan.
o The unique pixilation, though, separates it from standard, commercial mugs available everywhere (thanks a lot, Disney *eye roll*) and hints that he’s a picky fan. Pixels suggest computer language and old video games—both things he likes.
o He works in a place where he’s not afraid to show this side of himself, suggesting a super-casual workplace, co-workers into the same things, or both.
All that’s true.
Poirot’s tiny espresso cups, pinkie out… The gorgeous tea set in Father Brown’s rectory… Michael Scott’s World’s Best Boss mug, that he bought himself… these reflect who they are.
A dainty tea cup might suggest a little, old lady or at least someone with refinement.
A mug with a poop icon might suggest a crude sense of humor.
From handmade to store-bought, mugs with affirmations or superheroes, mugs shaped like animals or advertising businesses, mugs can tell readers a great deal about the characters using them.
Need mug ideas? Visit your favorite mug-selling store and take pics of your favorites. Or for a more eclectic selection, pop into your local thrift and antique store. I found this one on display at my parents' house, and thought it was cool.
Now, let’s go darker… *Villainous cackling*
What about a character who buys/possesses a mug that doesn’t make sense? Or doesn’t belong?
The heroine looks for a coffee mug in her boyfriend’s house and finds a mug advertising a company that, as far as she knows, he’s never worked for, in a state he’s never lived in. Has he set up his household with careless thrift store finds or hand-me-downs? Or does he have a secret past? Has he lied to her? Does she know this man at all?
Thinking about mugs just became a Lifetime movie. *Smirk*
One more thought from the darker side…
Could a mug be used as part of a disguise? Imagine a place where no one knows everyone all the time. A hospital, maybe. Or a large school or college that often has substitutes or visiting professors. Someone drinking coffee out of the same mug that was given away at the employee picnic or staff meeting might blend in. How might an institution’s swag be used against them? To overhear conversations, steal something, or get access to places?
Wow. It’s amazing all the places a mind can go starting with a such a simple thing.
So, let’s play. What ideas have percolated in your writer-brain about mugs?