Shelley Widhalm

Writiing About Objects, Part II

In Writing, Writing About Objects, Writing Processes on July 5, 2015 at 11:00 am

Writing about objects in short stories and novels can reflect an emotional experience for the characters, while also adding interest to the plot.

The objects can reveal the character’s personality, hint at storyline and peak readers’ interest at their importance and meaning as the story unfolds when the objects carry symbolic significance. A clock on an old building could symbolize how a character can’t escape the hour when she’s stuck in her same patterns, or a character’s love of butterflies can show how she wants to travel but doesn’t have the means to do so.

Objects can point out how characters respond to and learn about their physical world, pointing to a deeper level of emotion the character isn’t willing or ready to address until later on in the story.

And objects can reveal aspects of plot that aren’t directly stated, such as an empty suitcase that keeps appearing in the story that, only at the story’s end, gets filled with something meaningful to the character.

To build an object into your story, here are a few steps you can take.

  • Start with a compelling object that means something to the character or that will carry out the plot, such as an animal, plant or something manmade.
  • Think of possible metaphors or symbols for that object.
  • Think about how the character describes the object. What does she see in it? How does she observe and perceive it? What senses does she use to understand and absorb it?
  • Figure out how the character acquires or comes across the object. When and how does it come into her life? What does she do with it once she encounters it or it comes into her possession?
  • Ask what the object means to the character and why she notices it. Does the object have a family history? Or personal history? Is she open with the other characters about her interest in the object, or is it something she hides from others?
  • Does the object introduce danger into the character’s life? Or does it offer comfort or love or something she can’t get from the other characters?

Also, come up with a list of ways the character describes the object to avoid repetition but also to keep the object in the storyline to the end of the story, when the object’s full meaning comes forth.

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