Word by Word

Practical insights for writers from Jessica P Morrell

Quick Take: Search out the perfect objects to enhance storytelling

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Jan• 18•16

Book Thief reading to friendConsider weaving meaningful objects or possessions throughout your story. Then make certain these objects are repeated or reappear.  In Markus Zusak’s  The Book Thief there are books, the alphabet etched on the cellar walls,  and the beautiful accordion. The books and alphabet represent a whole world that opens up to Liesel when she learns to read,  her hunger for knowledge, her connection to her adopted father  Hans and the Buergermeister’s wife who daringly loans her books. The title reflects this–young Liesel was so desperate to learn to read that she grabbed a book that someone had dropped–a gravedigger’s handbook.  In one scene after a book burning ordered by the Nazis,  Liesel snatches a burning book from the pile and carries it home. The accordion is a sign of friendship and connection.

Objects can also serve to push events along in a story. The family’s situation turns downright dangerous with the arrival of Max Vandenburg, the fugitive son of a Jewish comrade who saved Hans’ life during WWI. Hans now owns the accordion.

On the other hand, as the story goes along, the symbols of the Nazi regime also infiltrate, permeate the story. The flag with its swastika–an ancient symbol that once meant well-being–the armbands worn to signify Jewish identity, the troops and their powerful machinery of war.

In Stephen Spielberg’s film  E.T. it’s the marigold plant.ET marigold and girl

In Lord of the Rings it’s the conch shell.

In Alice Hoffman’s latest novel The Marriage of Opposites the sea turtles come to shore every spring to lay their eggs and return to the sea. This also shows time passing and underlines the sense of magical realism and nature that permeate the story.

These items, or motifs, serve to connect the story, enhance themes, add subtext, and create emotional resonance. The objects can be static or can change such as the marigold thriving and wilting, and can also serve as sensory anchors in the story.

Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

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