Shelley Widhalm

Archive for the ‘Writing About Objects’ Category

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.

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