Monday, June 8, 2015

The things around us

I saw an art exhibit this past weekend in which everyday objects figured prominently. It has reminded me to look twice at my surroundings, at the familiar objects that make up my world but that I have stopped thinking about. Just as I have my plates and shoes and posters, my contact-lens case, my toothbrush and phone and pillowcases, my characters have their own worlds full of the things they encounter daily, the things they use with hate or love or indifference. A character knows how to jiggle the doorknob of her apartment to get it to open; she has seen that particular crack in the sidewalk every day; she knows the mildewy smell of the basement.

Every story has a setting, and almost every setting has things in it, things that are familiar to the characters. I don't mean that we need to describe all of these things--description that is just a catalog of furnishings bores me--but a few objects may deserve notice on the page. And the rest will form a backdrop; the rest of the objects will suggest themselves from the few details we do provide. We will also find (and leave) clues in how a character treats his surroundings: Are his things precious to him? Is he careless? Does he hoard? Does he take out his anger on his physical surroundings? Does he seem to think he doesn't have the right to take up space? What does he have hidden away, that only he knows about?

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