Almost anything you can think of can be used in character development. And almost anything can be used to advance ambition or conflict in a story. Shopping patterns are marvelous definers for both men and women, and although shopping is often used to define young women in chic flicks, it is definitely not limited to the young and feckless. People, whether consciously or not, generally use what they buy as statements of who they are. They same holds true for how they buy.
• shop ‘til they drop
• can’t think of anything they like less than shopping
• shop in department stores
• haunt boutiques
• hire professional shoppers
• frequent designers
• only buy from thrift stores (remember “Second Hand Rose?”)
• shop by catalog
• use the Internet.
• spend their weekends at the Mall and it is their social life as well as their source for things
• buy material but make their own clothes, so shop for patterns
• always ask for a discount
• are generally rude to shop personnel
• shop in ethnic stores and neighborhoods
• refuse to shop for people who criticize their taste
• love antiques
• are attracted only to the ultra modern
• are hugely educated about what they shop for
People have shopping patterns that they developed and those that were taught to them by significant people in their lives. This can be a great area for memories that contribute to our understanding of the character’s history. Generally, if you’re going to focus on something like shopping as a focal point, your character’s shopping tendencies have already been established as an important part of the character group you are describing and will quickly serve to expand the audience understanding of the character much like landmarks define geography.
Each person thinks their way of shopping is the way shopping should be done. They may even be totally unaware that there is another way to shop. Friendships are developed through shopping. Feelings can be hurt through shopping. Ethnicity can be defined by the outlets groups of similar background congregate. Shopping in ethnic stores can present dangers. For example illegal immigrants shopping in stores that cater to largely Hispanic shopping traditions run the risk of being raided and arrested by ICE.
What are the character's shopping patterns? What are his favorite stores, favorite departments or favorite neighborhoods? Do shopping patterns contribute to our understanding of the character? Does shopping advance the plot? Does shopping contribute to the conflict between characters or groups of characters?
As a term paper idea, you can approach shopping from the point of view of how the person you have read about would have shopped in his or her day and why that would be important. Or you can make up how that person would have shopped today and justify your choice. You can develop how the author used shopping to set the period, character or groups of characters in the story.
If you’re looking for history there are links to antique catalogs. Here’s one that goes back to 1933 You use these links to find out what was for sale, what the prices were, what was sold and what was made. Newspaper archives are also useful to get a line on what stores were advertising, what they were advertising, what costs were, what people were looking for. Through this link you can brows through the New York Times back to 1858 . I cannot figure out how to make this big enough to read and if someone can – please let us know.