A thousand years before I became an author I worked as a screenwriter in Hollywood. I was contracted to write a coming-of-age comedy a la American Pie (though this was when American Pie was still loose leaf and was called something like Great Falls High). I was having a terrific conversation with my producer -- he was flipping through pages of The Next Big Thing (no, you haven't seen it -- it flopped) -- with a wide smile on his face. He was nodding, doing the "yeah, yeah, good," head bob and I was feeling pretty great. Until he smacked the script shut, clasped his hands on top of it, and said, "Now tell me what Allison had for breakfast."
I paused, frowned. Is this a joke? "Um, there wasn't a breakfast scene in the script, but I can go ahead and put one in if that's what you're asking."
He shook his head, chuckling like I was a bright green newbie (which I was). "No. You need to know what your character had for breakfast. Everyday." His face was serious. I was silent. He pressed on. "If you don't know what Allison had for breakfast, you don't know her at all. The script is going to fall apart."
"Are you asking me?"
"No. Toast." I started to see Allison coming down the stairs in my head. She wasn't a morning person so she was always late -- but, she wanted to be healthy, too. "And half a grapefruit. She only has time for a couple of bites of the grapefruit, though, and she eats the toast on her way to school."
This banal bit of information -- breakfast! -- gave me incredible insight into my character, even though nothing about breakfast was written into the script. Your breakfast choices might be odd -- Sophie Lawson, from my Underworld Detection Agency books is known for a healthy balance of a Diet Fresca and a half-sleeve of chocolate marshmallow pinwheels. Or it could be more traditional: Truly, Madly, Deadly's Sawyer Dodd is forced into a chair by her mother who insists that breakfast is the most important meal of the day -- and it's always hot. I don't know why, but Al was absolutely right: to know your character is to know what they scarf down each morning.
Too this day, I'm not entirely sure that I've ever written a breakfast scene -- but I know that I've never had a character with an empty plate.