How to use objects in your fiction writing 1

Are you making the most of the physical objects in your fiction? Dramatic techniques used in scriptwriting often use objects to physicalise conflict, create tension, externalise emotions and relationships, and bring talky scenes to life.

At the editing stage, they can also help to transform a lifeless scene. Read on to discover how pianos, trees and things in pockets can make a difference to your writing!

This is an edited excerpt from Dramatic Techniques for Creative Writers. “A brilliant book!!” Amazon reviewer.

Why physical objects are powerful in stories

Dramatic writers such as screenwriters and playwrights often make use of physical objects, for excellent reasons. Objects are particularly useful in dramatic writing, as they help to externalize the action between characters, and make internal action visible.

In fiction, it’s easy to get inside characters’ heads with first person viewpoint, or free indirect style. But talking about your feelings on stage can feel static. Dramatists try to find ways to show rather than tell what their characters are feeling, and objects can play a major role.

Below you’ll find some thoughts on different kinds and scales of objects. But for now, imagine one of your characters carrying an object – in this instance, a bottle.

Some uses of physical objects in creative writing

Objects can act as a point of negotiation, conflict or connection between two sides.

Imagine the bottle being shared, sold or hidden.

They can also provide a vehicle for subtext, allowing characters to express their feelings obliquely, through the object, rather than through on-the-nose dialogue.

Imagine the bottle being smashed or used to threaten.

Objects can even become imbued with character themselves. They can stand in for absent characters, be puppeted, and provide solitary characters with someone to interact with.

Imagine your character speaking to the bottle, blurting out their drunken woes.

Above all, objects add rich potential for different kinds of character interaction, by creating a physical link between them. This takes their relationship beyond talk, which can quickly get dull.

How to use this:

Choose an object and think of ways it can be used. Brainstorm and write down as many verbs as you can. When you run out of ideas, try these categories (this uses the bottle example):

Physical use: break, mend, lift, bury, hide, reveal…

Normal use: pour, fill, empty…

Disruptive use: hurt someone, cement into a wall, build a bomb…

Transformative use: melt, smash, paint, adapt, take apart…

Emotional use: bribe, threaten, pacify, bond…

Now, imagine your characters using the object in these different ways. Do any of them resonate? Can any of them work in your scene? If so, can you build in an escalation or change, so that the object undergoes some kind of transfer or transformation?

Want some suggestions and examples from well-known movies? Click for How writing with objects can power up your fiction Part 2.

Look out for objects being used in a significant way in your movie or TV viewing. You’ll start to notice this dramatisation technique everywhere!

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