Monday, September 5, 2011

Gimme Props!

Where would Harry Potter be if Voldemort hadn’t decided to stuff a couple chunks of his soul inside a few inanimate objects?

What about Frodo?  What if it wasn’t a ring he had to bear on his quest but a bracelet?  Or a banana clip?  Would the title have been ‘Lord of the Banana Clips’?

Assigning importance to a thing or object is a great way to give information, help the reader visualize what’s taking place, and enhance the plot.

For example:

 Your character is a young boy who’s mother died recently.  Somehow you have to bring this fact and the emotions that come with it into the story at the right time without it coming off as back story.

Now, give the boy a red hat. -A winter had that he wears even in the summer.  Something he refuses to part with.  Something the kids at school make fun of him for (conflict).  Something he plays with and caresses when he thinks no one is looking (reflection). 

Something his mother made him before she died. 

Suddenly the hat takes on a whole new significance and can be used as a tool to bring back story and emotions up to the forefront.

In my newest MS ‘Kissing for Coffee’ Sadie finds an old stuffed clown that brings back memories of when she and her coffee geek Jake used to be close before seventh grade.  Finding the clown helps the reader see a different side of Sadie and discover how her relationship with Jake developed into what it is today.

In FOSSEGRIM Sage’s best friend Aiden is constantly playing with a black Indian head necklace that hangs around his neck, especially when he’s nervous about something. 
But the talisman takes on a more sinister air when we discover it’s actually a piece of black corral- a symbol of the Fiskari- the Fossegrim’s ancient enemies and a weapon that causes land-bound Fossegrim to take on their true form.

Props are an important part of any story.  What kind of props have you found yourself using in your MS?  Can you think of any other books and movies that use objects to enhance the storyline?


* * * * 
Since I'm in France and can't celebrate Labor Day like I usually would, I'm taking part in KarenG's Labor Day BBQ!  Come on over for delicious food and meet great new people!

51 comments:

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I seem to use jewelry, which is ironic since I don't usually wear any (or much).

Matthew MacNish said...

You make a great point! Sometimes it's really helpful to have a prop that can necessitate bringing up a bit of backstory organically.

Suz Korb said...

Props are very good, especially if you add them to your story as something your protagonist has to obtain; thereby fuelling the main plot. But whatever your main character has to find, might not actually be an object. So this is a bit different. But it adds the main goal to a novel.

Thanks for commenting on my Bang Out the Prose blog and nice to meet you via KarenG's BBQ!

salarsenッ said...

Using props is a great way to sneak information to the reader without them even realizing it. This technique can add so much depth and heart. I my YA novel, I use a small pink book that seems insignificant at first. Slowly, both the reader and the character learn how much that book defines my character.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

Hmmm ... Does a caged grave count? How about a mother's diary and a few homemade charms?

Nothing is coming to mind from my other manuscripts, but it makes sense the one that can be classified as "a mystery" involves more significant props.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Katie .. (prefer that to Creepy Girl!) - with pleasure a bowl of hummus and crudites coming your way! Thanks for coming over to say 'Hi'.

Karen's Labor day BBQ is great fun .. and you're over the Channel I see - presumably in some idyllic village .. oh to speak French and oh to be in France ..

Enjoy the school term ahead .. have fun and see you shortly .. my pretty face is up - so now I'll subscribe - see you soon ..

DL Hammons said...

In my latest book a pair of bright orange high top basketball shoes serve as both a plot point, and an emotional lightning rod. And if I ever do see this book published, it will become a key marketing concept as well. I'm very well acquainted with props. Great post!! :)

Milo James Fowler said...

"An old stuffed clown" -- my first thought is this must be a HORROR story! Sorry. Just my own childhood trauma rearing its ugly head, I guess. Anyhow, you're right. Gots to give props to props. [cringe]

mshatch said...

I had to think for a minute but I realize that I have props in all my novels, a book, a pair of mirrors, a ring, all of which have a meaning beyond the ordinary. I like the red hat, though, that was good.

Marguerite said...

Great post and blog! Thanks so much for stopping by and following. So nice to meet you!

Old Kitty said...

The wardrobe in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe!! Magic Carpet in Ali Baba! :-)

Yay for props that move plots along!!! Take care
x

Jen Daiker said...

How fun (minus the clowns, I'm one of the millions who are freaked out by them)... but this is a really great post!

I don't use a prop like you describe but maybe I do and don't even realize. I write Women's Fiction and the only thing that's repetitive is the cats that make their way in and out of the females life... maybe that's mine.

Talei said...

I have a pot plant and a cat... and a soft toy, hmm but who knows if they'll make to the final cut but for now they're in the manuscript. ;-)

Awesome post btw, excellent examples!

KarenG said...

Thanks for the link and shout out for the BBQ! And I love this post! The idea of props is one of those things that may not show up in the first few drafts but as a ms is revised and polished these kinds of details make it come alive.

Elena Solodow said...

I have an antique rifle that follows my MC around throughout the draft (not literally follows, but you get the idea), and the rifle is of extreme importance later on.

Glynis said...

Interesting post. I hadn't really thought about the props used in my novels. Now I realise it is jewellery in the first and clothing in the second.

Mm, is that apple tart from the BBQ?

Amalie said...

I must agree with Milo, clowns are terrifying. But the point is a good one. I don't think I actually have any props. Actually, I think my unfinished paranormal has one(mangled tiny fairy corpse in a freezer bag), but nothing in my contemporary stuffs. Need to think about that!

Mama J said...

Great post and definitely something to think about.

Jess said...

When you mentioned a red hat, I immediately thought of Holden Caulfield's red hunting hat from The Catcher in the Rye. Love this post! I know I've read tons of books with intimate objects of importance, but my mind is going blank right now. I think it's my brain signaling to me that it's time to nap while my little one is sleeping. Thanks for joining the BBQ all the way from France :)

Rosalind Adam said...

Now you've got me thinking. One of my characters had an old bike that went everywhere with him but I didn't consciously include it as a prop in the way you've described. What's more I can't think of any props used in novels that I've read recently. *note to self* I must concentrate more when I read.

jabblog said...

A prop that sets the character is often very useful - the teddy bear in Brideshead Revisited springs to mind - I must consider this:-)

Marja said...

Thanks for visiting I loved the idea of the hat and the clown. Thanks for sharing your knowledge so freely with us. I used to love story writing but haven't any time anymore. Nice to keep learning and maybe one day.... Arohanui marja

Amber said...

Nice post. My WIP does not actually have any props-of-special-importance, so I will have to think about that. Part of it is probably that I'm not the type of person who holds onto keepsakes, etc, and so don't even think of having my characters do so.

jbchicoine said...

Fun blog you've got over here in France!
hmmm...props...why, yes! I have loads of props--I like my ruby dagger best. How about a schooner--can a boat be a prop?

A.L. Sonnichsen said...

Hi Katie!

I'm so glad to meet you through the BBQ (and other places). I'm finally a blog follower -- I'm not sure what took me so long!

This is a great post. I definitely use props in my books. In the one I'm editing right now, I have a stuffed animal and a notebook that both remind the mc about a person she left behind in China. Very useful!

And one more thing: you live in France!? That's so cool! I've lived abroad most of my life, but never in Europe (unfortunately). :)

Amy

Lynda R Young said...

I brought chocolate cake for the BBQ ;)

props... there's Excalibur, King Arthur's famous sword.

MaDonna Maurer said...

Hi, thanks for stopping by today!
Great post! Something I should do for my current wip.
France, huh? My husband is German, so we've ventured into France once when we've been to visit his parents. How fun for you! Happy Labor Day and it was nice to "meet" you!

Carol Kilgore said...

Sometimes I use physical props. Probably not as often as I should. So nice to meet you!

Murr Brewster said...

Props. A great idea. I was thinking, and I believe I only used entire meteor showers in my novel. Perhaps I should scale down a bit?

Thanks for stopping by! Happy Labor Day. Or Jour de Travail, or something.

Nikki Jefford said...

My character ended up with a red scarf to cover vampire bites, cause she’s ironic that way. It turned out to be a great prop – like waving a red flag in front of a bull. I love the imagery (in my mind, anyway) since the story’s set in Alaska. Red on white.

Where are you in France? I was a teaching assistant in Amiens over a decade ago. I ended up stealing a Frenchman while I was at it. (Much to his mother’s horror.)

Miranda Hardy said...

Props are very important to trigger past flash backs. Great post!

Cindy said...

I knew about this method, but over time I forgot about it. This has given me something to think about. Thanks!

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

Interesting post. I suppose in my WIP, a unicorn lawn ornament would qualify, although I'd never thought of it in those terms. Thanks for the food for thought.

Talking about food, good to meet you through Karen's Labor Day BBQ. (Guess you had to settle for coq au vin or something, huh? Poor thing!) Thanks for visiting my blog, and please count me in as your newest follower.

Kittie Howard said...

I was in Macedonia when Katrina hit so have this huge empathy for how you must feel. It's horrible to watch the tv screen, see such devastation and feel so helpless, so disconnected. My heart goes out to you! *sends hug* And to everyone affected...we saw on the news last nite that there are still people in CT without power, so many struggling amid Irene's wake. My hub's from Manchester, NH - with so many trips up thru the years, our hearts ache.

But happy you dropped by and happy to follow you! I really enjoyed what you wrote about using a prop. Very good point!!

Ella said...

Great post; so glad you made it to the BBQ ;D
In the YA fiction "13 Little Blue Envelopes" we see these not only give directions to the next assignment, but as a last communication of guidelines for life. Her aunt pays for and sends her on a journey of a lifetime. These letters bring forth emotion, reflection and conflict. When the MC doesn't want to complete her zany aunt's next task. We also get insight to their relationship. A clever tool, which I love~

Carolyn V said...

Love that! I have hair twisting or rings that are fidgeted with. Makes a big difference in my characters reactions.

LTM said...

ooo! I love this trick, and it sounds like a great way to jog my mind for a title.... :D

Lord of the Banana Clips. Good one~ ;p

Phil Hall said...

In my story, "Memories of the Dead," the main prop was the MCs soul. It's in a jar, you see and--

Wait, I can't actually tell you without ruining a whole lot of fun for you when/if you read it. Sorry.

But I CAN tell you that the soul's purpose is to add conflict within one's own self--once made external by removal.

...that sounded pretentious, didn't it?... Sorry about that, it's really not all that complicated or "deep," you'll just have to read it when it's ready. It all makes more sense then. Honest.

Betsy said...

Hi there...thanks for the visit! Great to meet you...loving the blog as I'm browsing through. Right now what I really want is that latte with the heart in your last post! :)

Carrie Butler said...

Lord of the Banana Clips - Hah! Oh my goodness. I like you already. :D

Journaling Woman said...

Heyyyyyy!

Props--hmm. Well in my last short story my prop was little white pills for two characters. In my mystery WIP it's a big ole dog.

Thanks for the visit!

Melissa Ann Goodwin said...

This is a really great post. I have to remember this in my next book. In The Christmas Village, there are a few items that take on significance, but not quite the way you show here. Next story, I'll definitely use them this way, it's very effective.

Hart Johnson said...

Lord of the Banana Clips... BUWHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Too funny!

You know... I don't always think about props, though I have used them... one of my books has a little Romanian flag that causes a level of trust between kids who would otherwise be strangers (and is related later to a connection they didn't know they had). A good reminder though, to think about this as another tool in our box.

Angela Brown said...

Hmmm...when I consider the props in Harry Potter, I think of how the various ones tied together in later stories but seemed significant all on their own when introduced in earlier stories, like the Riddle diary.

In one MS I'm working on, the prop is a letter the MC unknowingly takes with her when she's transported to the sister realm of Milith. It's her way of linking back to her parents and friends and the world she missed.

Karen Walker said...

So cool to meet you - thanks for the visit and comment to my blog. I am writing fiction for the first time after 30+ years of nonfiction, so this is very helpful for me to think about. Thank you.
Karen

Bethany Elizabeth said...

The Lord of the Banana Clips would SO have made my to-watch list! :) One of my recent characters has a scarlet cloak that she wears pretty much nonstop and has a fit if someone tries to take it off of her. Turns out, her dreams can be invaded if she isn't wearing it. Go figure. :)

Jeff King said...

Yes, that is a good way to enrich a story.

Great post, thx for sharing.

I think it help the reader connect to the character, because sometime in our lives we all attach ourselves to an object.

Caitlin said...

You know I hadn't even given a second thought to props in my WIP. Although, after reading this, I'm diving back into my Word document to work on something. Something's been lacking, hoping this is maybe it!

Kelly said...

Great points. Way to give props to the props!

Tamara Narayan said...

My MC in my first novel carries around a dog-eared copy of her father's funeral program. The picture of her dad used for the program was one of them together, but the MC has been cropped out. But she can spot a bit of her head in the lower left hand corner.

I know you wrote a blog about making Sadie unique awhile back. Does she have any younger siblings? If so, you could give the sib a medical condition that requires her parents to lavish attention on the sib and cause sib rivalry problems above and beyond the norm. Might make a good reason for Sadie's snarkiness.

Rachel Morgan said...

I've read the whole post and I still can't get past ‘Lord of the Banana Clips’! TOO HILARIOUS!!

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