Everyone knows James Bond likes his martini shaken, not stirred. He’s a classic, but a little bit less conventional than most.
Carrie Bradshaw’s signature drink is the cosmopolitan, an apt name for her stylish lifestyle in Manhattan.
Hannibal Lector’s chianti, said with a lick of his lips behind bars, reminds us of blood. He is a cannibal, so what else would he drink?
A well-chosen cocktail cements the personality of the character, assigning motives, attitudes, and background with a simple sip. In my own Late Bloomers Series of contemporary romance, I have five women characters with distinct personalities, and each one has her own favorite drink.
What Beverage Choice Reveals About Characters
Red wine can convey decadence and indulgence, a character who enjoys the finer things in life. A white wine, however, suggests someone more crisp, cool, and controlled. You’d more easily imagine a WASPy character in the Hamptons drinking white wine, while her bohemian black-sheep sister drinks red wine in Paris with her artistic friends.
Hard liquor suggests a worn-down character, someone with heavy responsibilities or life experience. A hard-boiled detective may drink bourbon from a bottle in the bottom drawer of his desk. A gang leader can drink hard liquor straight from the bottle, his ability to hold his liquor another indication of his manhood to the gang. Strong alcohol is a good choice for characters who have a tougher skin.
Drinks can set a character in a certain time period. Give a man an old-fashioned, and you automatically get the Don Draper vibe of white shirts, skinny ties, and the sixties. Place a small glass of sherry in a woman’s hands, and you’re looking at someone’s aunt in England, probably an amateur sleuth.
Give a character tequila, and you can bet one of two things will happen: a drunken night of crazy antics, or a complete blackout. A character who drinks tequila is not typically known for his moderation in life.
Beer is the common man’s drink, at least if the character drinks basic beer. Soldiers, college students, and blue-collar workers unwind at the end of the day with a brewskie. Stick that beer in a bottle and label it as a craft beer, and you have another character altogether: a yuppie with a loosened tie, a rich man on his sailboat with friends, or a group of tech guys at their favorite brewery after work.
Give your character a blender drink, and it is almost always a woman, almost always one who doesn’t drink regularly. A frozen margarita on a night out with the girls ends in a crazy adventure. Too many daiquiris on vacation means she gets a little freaky in the bedroom with her husband later.
How Writers Choose Beverages for Characters
Whether it is from the movies, book, or personal experience, we tend to judge people on what they drink. Writers use beverages as shorthand to describe a character, to relay a dozen different attributes through a simple order. A writer’s job is to show, not tell, to allow the reader to develop a picture of the characters and stories on their own minds. Choice of beverage is just one way to do that.
In the Late Bloomers Series, I’ve used alcohol to draw distinctions between the five women in my series, each of whom stars in her own story, but all of whom make appearances in all the books.
Rose is a landscape designer and a nurturing sort of person. She feels at one with the earth and her family. Her drink of choice is red wine, a beverage connected to the earth through grapevines and centuries of cultivation.
Ivy is a transplanted American living in London. She doesn’t take to tea, but she does learn to appreciate a nice gin and tonic, especially when paired with a spicy curry. She has a bolder personality, is transparent about what she wants, and can be a little sharp.
Lily is a bohemian, a doctor who works in rural Africa for Médecins San Frontières (Doctors Without Borders). She likes rum cocktails, a sweet way of escaping the harsh reality she sees every day.
Violet is a jewelry designer, a woman of distinct tastes. She drinks champagne, prosecco, and cava; her drink is always one with bubbles. She is sophisticated yet fun, and the classy and bubbly drink fits her personality.
Daisy is a food writer, and she is always aware of what is popular in the moment. She’ll always drink the latest and greatest cocktails, slipping back to classic drinks from quality liquors when trendy drinks are not available. She may not be a trendsetter, but she is a trend promoter, and her choice of drink reveals this.
Another Round, Please
Think back to your favorite characters in books, movies, and television. What does their choice of drink tell you about them?