Look at someone’s room and you’ll know something of its owner. The sunroom with a bright rug of crotchet-squares hanging over a wooden rocker. The rumpus room with the giant flat-screened TV and the brick bar in the corner. The bedroom with the walls covered in posters of One Direction.
Objects show us the lives of real people and their history. Objects in fiction do the same.
Christos Tsiolkas understands the symbolic importance of objects. In this excerpt from ‘The Slap’ the objects represent the dramatic change this character has undergone in the past year.
“Last summer she had stripped the room bare of all her posters, all the images of movie stars, celebrities and pop stars; she chucked out Robbie Williams and Gwen Stefani, Miss Elliot and Johnny Depp… There were only two posters on the walls now. One was of a clear blue desert sky shot through with razor wire, protesting the inhumane detention of refugees in Australia. She had snaffled it at an anti-racism rally the year before.”
These carefully chosen objects stand in for the character, her circumstances, her history, who she is and what she cares about. We can add deeper layers to our writing by giving our characters meaningful objects.
As well as history, objects can show desire. Tsiolkas’ character replaces the posters of celebrities with a poster supporting human rights. This may represent who she is now, but it could just as well represent who she desires to be.
Next time you’re developing a character, think about the objects they might have and how those objects can work to enrich their life on the page.