Objects of Character
by Carrie Conner
Every object has a story. And objects are how we experience the world. These bundles of mass and energy have the power to stimulate our senses, trigger memories and lead us to form conclusions about our physical reality. It’s the intersection of objects and individual experience that shape who we are.
We’ve all heard the adage: One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. We value or spurn things based on our relationship with them. As writers we can use this to our advantage.
For example, in The Last Tycoon, F. Scott Fitzgerald* shows us how much we can learn about a character through objects.
In the novel, Fitzgerald’s protagonist Monroe Stahr invites writer George Boxley to imagine sitting at his desk, idly watching a stenographer as she enters the office. She takes off her gloves, opens her purse and dumps it out on a table. She has two dimes, a nickel and a cardboard matchbox. Stahr continues:
She leaves the nickel on the desk, puts the two dimes back into her purse and takes her black gloves to the stove, opens it and puts them inside. There is one match in the matchbox and she starts to light it kneeling by the stove… Just then your telephone rings. The girl picks it up, says hello – listens – and says deliberately into the phone, ‘I’ve never owned a pair of black gloves in my life.’
A nickel, two dimes, a matchbox and black gloves: What do the objects in this passage say about the stenographer?
Follow Fitzgerald’s lead. Dump out your purse, empty your wallet, the pocket of an old coat or open the junk drawer in the kitchen. Quickly choose three or more objects without thinking too hard about them. Then use the objects to reveal attributes of a character in a piece of fiction, non-fiction or poetry. What story will your objects tell?
* F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Love of The Last Tycoon: The Authorized Text,
First Scribner eBook edition, 2003
A friend once asked Carrie Conner why she writes. “Because I have to,” she said. “You mean like publish or perish?” he asked. “No,” she said, “It’s more like … breathing.” Carrie has spent 20 years as a staff and features journalist and freelance copywriter for a variety of publications and companies. One day, while interviewing an emerging novelist about her new book release, she realized she was done writing about other people’s accomplishments. She’s currently putting together a yet-untitled collection of short stories and a screenplay.