Shelley Widhalm

Writing About Objects, Part I

In Getting Unstuck in Writing, Writer's Block, Writing About Objects on June 28, 2015 at 11:00 am

When I get stuck in my writing, I try to think of some of my favorite objects, such as the flash of color on fast-moving hummingbirds or the reflection of streetlights in puddles.

Studying or thinking about objects gives me a starting point for description in my writing, with the objects serving as writing prompts. Writing prompts are a way to get rid of expectations and goals and open up to whatever comes to mind, so that the writing is free and natural.

To get into your description of the object, say a hummingbird, observe closely by looking at the bird’s shape, coloring, feathers and patterns of movement. Use your other senses to get to know the bird, listening to the whir of its wings, smelling the nectar it drinks and tasting the stirring up of air. It’s likely you won’t touch the bird, but imagine the softness of its feathers, how they sink under your thumb, and the frailness of the small bones underneath.

Anchor your ideas about the object in the concrete, but also think about what the object makes you feel. What emotional responses do you have? What moods are invoked? Do your feelings become part of the object, and does what the object emit become part of you?

Ask why the objects matter. Is it ordinary or commonplace, or can you make something of it? Does the boring brick building with an ordinary door have history? Are there fingerprints on the glass from someone who was afraid to enter or left in a hurry, or does the brick have a stain from something spilled or thrown there?

What else can you pull out of the object? Think about its story. What memories does it invoke? What is its history? What is its scientific background? Does it have a personal or philosophical meaning? Or do we give it meaning?

In a story, an object can be symbolic carrying meaning that isn’t directly inherent in its physical characteristics. An object can be used to move the plot forward, to enliven the setting or to externalize a character’s emotions. It can indicate conflict. It can add to dialog. And it can give meaning to the unspoken parts of the story.

I find that writing about objects is a way to enter into my writing, deepen what I’m writing about and find my words when I’m not sure where to go next on the page.

(See how Zoey the Cute Dachshund handles objects in her blog

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