Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Wherein a shoe has a soul...

Lately, upon realizing how many of my stories have secondary "characters" that are inanimate objects, I started pondering how often writers do this, giving life and breath to objects--maybe without even being aware of it.

Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights is a perfect example, where the house itself becomes a character in the book. Ms. Bronte flawlessly wove personality into the surroundings by using melancholy and unnerving descriptions so that the house and setting emanate actual emotions: anger, hatred and jealousy.

Here's a quote taken from an online essay: “Wuthering Heights ... suffers from a kind of malnutrition: its thorns have become barren, its firs stunted, everything seems to crave for the ‘alms of the sun’ that sustain life.”

Throughout Ms. Bronte's story, the characters fall into despair, madness, and unrequited love: a self-fulfilling prophecy mirroring the home's ugliness and dilapidation. The proper literary term for this is objective correlative (thank you, Mary, for the terminology and the linkage!).

In one of my historical love stories, there's a pair of 16th century Italian shoes which harbors a gypsy curse and has an amusing yet creepy tendency to move about without a wearer. The heroine is drawn to the shoes, almost to the point of obsession. They hold a mystical power over her, even without her realizing they also hold the secret of her lost past.

Another example is my gothic literary love story, where a flower which embodies a man's spirit becomes an active participant in the intensely emotional relationship between the ghost and the flower's keeper, a young deaf woman.

Even in my SPLINTERED MS, worn-out and mutilated toys play too big of a role to be considered mere objects.

Anytime an "inanimate thing" serves as a game player or mirrors the characters and their arcs, it evolves to more than just a prop. It takes an active role in the plot, a role that without which, the story wouldn't survive. Thus it becomes -- for lack of a better description -- a character. Within the confines of the story, it develops a soul.

Looking back on your stories or WIPs, can you find any objects that could be considered pivotal characters?


  1. I love objects as characters! They become symbolic, I think, a physical manifestation of the theme.

    I've only briefly thought about using symbols in my WiP as I'm trying to nail down my rough draft, but I think that they definitely add resonance and amplify the theme without smacking the reader in the face with a message.

    I love those pictures, even the creepy bride of Chucky! :)

    Have a nice Wednesday, my friend!

  2. I don't know if it counts, but the sky/sun are important in my WiP, so I'm playing with other objects (e.g., sunglasses, vertical blinds, etc.) to go along with the theme. I don't even know where these things come from--they normally show up on the page and I'm surprised on second reads.

    But I just read about OBJECTIVE CORRELATIVES here:
    the other day and thought, yep. I do this all the time and never had a name for it.

    Great post, Anita. Love your mutilated toys theme. Can't wait to read the book. :)

  3. Oh yes! In one a cottage, and in another a quilt. In my current WIP, it seems to be the rooftop of a building:)

  4. Great post, lovely Anita! And you are such a prolific writer, my dear. Look at all these stories you are teasing us with...I am drooling here. I really, really want to read one of your stories someday.

    Now I have to go see if I have any shoes with soul in them. ;D

  5. This is a great post, Anita! The first thing I thought of wasn't a book, but the movie 'Under the Tuscan Sun'. As the house becomes renovated, so does the main character. :) Love that! ;)

  6. Your title is so witty!
    To be honest, I don't know if I've done this before. If I did, it def. wasn't conscious.
    You know, your Willow (was that her name?) story has tons of promise. Are you thinking about working on that next? I never agreed with what you know who said about the heroine. Harumph.

  7. my first thought was actually about a movie i love called Open Range. rain is a character in the story. in my current fantasy novel, i think my magical stones are characters of sorts (both the good and bad ones). good post.

  8. Mare~ Haha. Creepy Chuckie bride. You're AWESOME! And I agree about symbolism adding depth. #goatlove

    Mary~ You are so brilliant, dear friend! Thanks for the great link up and terminology. As you can see, I've already added it in. Now I look like I'm smart too. SWEET.

    Terri~ How nice to see you here! And that's so cool about the cottage and quilt. LOL on the rooftop, tho. This I've gotta see! :)

    Cherie~ Hello sparkly lady. Hmm. Keep tempting me and I might make you an official #betafish. :) BTW, used to be prolific. Lately, it's hard to get into my writing rhythm. My brain is in submission land and it's difficult to think past that.

    Suzanne~ Thanks Suzanne! That's a GREAT example. :)

    Jessie~ Hello my dear! And thanks for the title love. Hee. YES. I'm going to put Willow out there, for sure. But I want to get WLW out first, because I've decided I'm going to keep them as a set/series. In fact, I might change the Nick book (w/the butterflies and Felicity) back to what I'd originally meant it to be (the third one) and then write one about Emelia, their sister. So harumph on YOU KNOw WHO. LOL

    Michelle~ Ooh, I love the thought of rain as a character! Cool about the stones, too. Thanks for stopping by!

  9. Oh no, I'm in trouble: that doll will haunt my nights, I can tell.
    I do give souls to important objects in my stories - especially my WiP where statues come alive. Gargoyles, anyone?

  10. I so love stories where the landscape or the house or whatever feels like another character! Houses and places and objects often feel sentient in real life, why not in fiction?

    Come to think of it, though, I'm not sure I've ever written anything with an inanimate object as an almost-character. Might be time to change that . . .

  11. Anne~ Haha. I know, that is one CREEPY doll. But kind of beautiful, too, in a haunting way. I love me some gargoyles!!

    Michelle~ Exactly! Sentient, the perfect word. Hmm. Will be interesting to see what you come up w/for your almost character. ;)

  12. Holy guac, I'll have to go over old manuscripts and check it out. I don't *think* there are any in my newest book, but damn. Lovely food for thought post Anita!

  13. You have such a clever imagination! :0) Great post!

  14. I love when inanimate objects take on their own roles in a story. And dolls are always a creepy medium for this literary technique.

    In my book, the forest is a motif that becomes a sort of secondary character.

    Great post, Anita. :D

  15. Oh my goodness, that doll is FREAKY! lol!

    In my first ms, I'd have to say my mc's bed plays a huge, almost human-like, role. When the story starts out, she's in a deep depression and spends most of her time in bed. Later on in the story, it's still the place she turns to for comfort.

    You always have such thought provoking posts--I always looking forward to them ;o)

  16. Like Emily Bronte my setting is a charater, but instead of a creepy mansion, it's an opulent retirement center that serves to protect and entertain all those who live there.

  17. Those sound like some really facinating characters. I love it when props take on a life of their own. Also, thank you for passing on the terminology. Very useful.

    I can't think of any specific objects in my own writing that have become "characters" but I have also always developed my settings like characters. Each "set" has its own personality and I like to think about the mood of a certain scene before I decide where it will take place. For example the city in my MS RULER OF GEAL are very rickety and almost hidden, always full of secrets but ready to fight back in very strange ways when threatened, whereas the hills are ancient and wild, bursting with the past. Come to think of it they both have almost the same life and past beneath the surface they just manifest it in different ways. But I am rambling now. Sorry. :P

  18. Your post changed my views about what a character is! Now I have to read Emily's book out of curiosity. I sit in my chair now thinking that a character could be something other than flesh and bones. A great read! Thanks for sharing!

  19. I've never thought about that before. Sure I've read it--but never considered an object as a character. This is so cool! I'm definitely going to consider this with future projects.

    By the way, when I grow up--I want to have a friend JUST like you!

  20. I have these! The Orient (the sea) acts as a character. She's out to protect my main character and 'brings him home' in a She also knows when she's being threatened because she lives to see the pirates sail. I even call her she!

  21. That doll is not right! SCREAM. Love the post.
    I would write more but I am getting ready for 2 weeks away, during which I will miss all of my marvelous #goatposse most dreadfully.

  22. Great post!! I hadn't really given it much thought when it came to my own writing, but in my WIP a clothing line becomes a character in it's own way. It slowly evolves, influences by circumstances, and transforms into something that really mirrors who the main character becomes. Wow! Thanks for making me think about that. The other one that immediately comes to mind is The Ring in The Lord of The Rings. It's one freaky character!

  23. I don't know that I have any in my own books, but another example would be Manderly in REBECCA. Man, do I love that gothic crap!

  24. Kerri~ Hey there! Thanks for the kindnesses. :) Glad you could stop by, twinkie sistah.

    Mandie~ Thanks girl! I enjoyed your blog today, too.

    T.S.~ Yes, dolls are the creepiest. One of my phobias, in fact. That's so cool! A forest is a perfect example.

    Angela~ LOL. I know right? Everyone's creeped out by that doll. Awesome about the bed. It almost becomes her friend. Great insights!

    Jane~ What a clever and unusual setting! I like that. :)

    Taryn~ Thanks! And sweet Mary up there is responsible for the terminology. I had no idea what it was called until after I read her comment! lOl. I love that detail about the hills and the city. VERY cool.

    Rene~ Hi there! I'm so glad the post got you to thinking. You're welcome! And thank you for stopping by.

    Rookstar~ Aww. Well, hurry up and grow up so we can be friends already. LOL

    Ashley~ Ooh. The sea as a character. I can totally see that! And no pun intended on words there. LOL

    Pony girl~ Haha. I must needs find a doll like this. It would be great to sit out on the porch at Halloween. Of course, it would end up scaring me, so that would defeat the purpose. Oh no! You're going on vaca and leaving #goatposse w/out your leadership? Not happy. But, I do wish you lots of fun!

    Tonya~ Welcome! And thanks very much. AWESOME example w/the ring! My precious...eek! That still gives me chills. Hehe

    Mindy~ Thanks for stopping in! I've never read that one, but if there's a gothic castle involved, I'm so there! Thanks for the tip!

  25. I adore objects and places as characters--it's such a sensory way to tie someone to a story, this added dimension.

    Uh, have I mentioned how much I want SPLINTERED? Oh, also, the shoes? Creepy and beautiful.

    You always find the best images, too!

  26. Hey Katey~ I WANT you to read SPLINTERED. Now,we only need to get a publisher on board. I'm trying! LOL

    Thanks about the pictures!That's one of my fave things to do is to find old pictures that have a haunting aura. ;)