The Grief Diet

“You look amazing! How many pounds have you lost?” The woman gushed. I don’t remember her name, but we’ve gone to the same gym for years and she talks about two subjects WEIGHT and HEALTH (her own and that of her tiny, elderly dog).

“Just a couple of pounds,” I reply.


“It’s the grief diet. I don’t recommend it.”


“My mom died.”

“But you look terrific. I have so much trouble keeping weight off and the holidays are coming…” She rambles on and on, still talking as I put my coat on and leave the lobby of the health club.


I’m not exaggerating—at least not much—this is close to word-for-word and I’m sharing it as a study in character.

Friends, family, people we’ve known for years reveal themselves in layers and layers of changes and responses to shared experiences. Does he tell the same story all the time exactly the same way, using the same words? Does she alter the story over a period of years, making it funnier or sweeter or sadder or simply longer?

In fiction, we introduce the reader to a cast of characters, bringing them on board quickly and efficiently is a challenging task. How do you communicate the essence of a minor character? What if this character will witness a crime, reveal a secret or offer an important opinion at a critical time in the story? If that’s so, the character’s credibility, worldview, and life experience needs to be available to the reader without interfering with the progress of the story.

An interaction, like the one I’m recalling for you, tells a great deal about the inquisitive narcissist with a weight obsession. If I were to use her as a witness to an incident in a crime story, she’d likely give spot on physical descriptions of the characters, while lacking any emotional insights into the people or memories of what they said on previous occasions. She’s locked into her own head, on a weight-centric loop, but what a great character to describe the physicality of a killer!

The grief diet & the characters in fiction...

The grief diet & the characters in fiction…


  1. The thing I like about minor characters is that their motivation to do X or see Y is just as important, in a way, as that of the major characters. The protagonist may get way more air-time but if that minor character falls flat, a tiny part of the foundation of the story breaks too.

    • Candy Korman

      YES! That’s why their perspective can’t be assumed. No one is a complete blank slate—not even a video camera. We point our phones at the incident from the moment when we think it’s worthy of filming, but don’t know what happened before. The challenge for the storyteller is to create a real person in a quick sketch so that their point-of-view is credible (or not credible as the case may be). Maybe it’s simply WHY the person looked in that direction or who they know that makes them sympathetic (or not) to the person they see doing something critical to the plot.