I find myself at the grocery checkout quite often these days. Lines are long and I have time to idly “check out” the groceries of the person in front of me. I’m not sure if this is my own strange idiosyncrasy or if many people do this, but I do look at what people are buying and sort of ponder it.
I look first at what they’re buying. What’s in your cart is quite often a reflection of the purchaser. Diapers, baby food, baby wipes, of course, denote a new parent. Large purchases of beer or wine, chips and dip, and chicken wings says “Super Bowl Party!” in January (although you have to buy the wings ahead of time—I guarantee there will be no wings available come Super Bowl Sunday). Lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, and organic products say health conscious shopper.
What’s almost as fun to check out is what products shoppers buy with a brand name and what they will buy with a store brand. I’ve seen people with every canned good a store brand, yet they have Charmin Bath Tissue. Or Green Giant canned vegetables, Campbell’s soups, Ocean Spray Cranberry juice, and store brand ginger ale. These are the shoppers I can be creative about, because I have no clue why they favor brand name on some items and not another.
I myself have only a few quirks when it comes to brand name vs. store brand. I will buy almost everything in generic that I can. Two exceptions come readily to mind: I will only buy Tetley British Blend for my hot tea and I will only buy Dukes Mayonnaise. The Tetley I have become so used to that nothing else (save Twinings) tastes right and Dukes Mayo is what I’ve used since I was a child. I’ve used other brands of mayonnaise, including a store brand one time when I was desperate, however, I will now forgo other groceries just to pay a little more for Dukes.
What these observations all boil down to are details. Details that I can put into my writing, at least when I’m writing contemporaries. Specifics draw the reader more deeply into a character. They can perhaps make a connection (maybe they use Charmin and thus understand immediately why that character chooses that TP) and therefore identify with the character and thus want to stay with the story to find out what happens to them.
Good writers are always observant of human nature. What people do, where they shop, what they buy, where they eat lunch and what they eat, can all be used at some point in a writer’s career. Observe the everyday details and they will help bring life to your characters.