Writing Objects and Images in Fiction

07 April 2021 on Blog, Storystorm  

Writing objects and images through the eyes and mind of a character can revolutionize a piece of fiction, opening up an emotional depth and connection to characters for the reader, and serving the epiphany in powerful ways. It’s something I used to not think much about, but in workshops and craft classes the advice has stuck out to me. A character might look at an egg when they're happy and notice the light being reflected off its shell, the feel of it, many little bumps rising out of its hard texture. Sad, they see the shadow the egg casts behind or beneath it, or feel the cold radiating off of it after pulling it from the fridge. Angry, are they aware of how easily the egg could be broken, how fragile the shell feels? Do they want to throw it at someone? The descriptions can be more than visual—associations, impulses, and memories are great to explore through objects and images.

When I am reading for Barnstorm, or reading classmates’ work, imagery is one of the elements I genuinely enjoy focusing on. When a writer can build a relationship between the narrator and an object, or a moment (an image can be a non-object, frozen in time or even moving), in a way that lets me as a reader come away knowing more about the experience of living this moment, as this character, in this situation, I am often blown away and delighted. It is a way to tell the reader, This character is hurting, without ever putting those words on the page. It is a way to define and shape the pain, or happiness, confusion, melancholy. As writers, we can choose the images that don’t belong as well as the ones that do, and, further, what the character notices about those images, the way they look and the memories or associations they trigger. We can say that this is the kind of broken day that makes the bags beneath the eyes appear purple in the polished mirror, or show a cat fishing and the fish, clueless and then dead, appearing later as only bones or as bones and specks of meat or a full but isolated head, show the cracks in the pavement instead of the road and the trees, or look up, and describe what’s in the sky. Each one can pull the reader, and the character, along in a different direction, and they can all inform the reader's understanding of the character's experience of that moment, and can create connections to the tensions running through the piece.

It can be subtle or dramatic! Is the salt shaker a little smudged, with a thumbprint? Does the character see the moon and, for a moment, think that it's on fire? If you're ever stuck and don't know what a character is feeling, try writing through their eyes, or just trying out different images or objects on the page, and see if it tells you anything about them. Sometimes an image just feels wrong, like it doesn't work, and even that can be useful if you need to get back on track.

Danley Romero is Fiction Editor at Barnstorm Journal. He’s a second-year MFA student and cellist. Find him on Instagram @danley456.

No Comments Yet

Leave a Comment
error: Content is protected !!