Are You Personalizing the Inanimate Objects In Your Story?

I just finished my newest children’s book called I’ll Never Let You Go.  It’s the story of Edward (a bear) and his best friend Blankie, a fuzzy blue fabric scrap.  Yep, Blankie is as real as any human friend with emotions and idiosyncrasies to match.  Cuddly, thoughtful, kind, protective… and afraid of thunderstorms.

Marianne Richmond, 2013

Marianne Richmond, 2013

People have long attached human qualities to inanimate objects as a way of showing affection, humorizing attachment, and honoring this possession’s important space in our lives.  Think boats, cars, computers, bicycles, Pet Rocks, shoes, robes, hammers and of course teddy bears and stuffed lions.

How the addition of an inanimate object can impact your story

When we ponder the players in our plot, we naturally think of the kind that breathe. But what might the addition of a beloved rocking chair, long-worn robe or well-traveled VW Bug add to your story?

1. Objects humanize characters in unexpected ways.

Humorless Lawyer McCloud might evoke unexpected empathy from readers as he props his feet on his late Grandmother Elsie’s favorite footstool.

2. Objects offer new direction for plot lines.

What indeed is the journey of that yellow Pinto that now sits in Tyler’s driveway?  Does that impact your story in a significant way?

3. Objects add relationship that might not be found elsewhere

Think Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.  As you contemplate connections between your characters, might an inanimate object be a key link between people or among a group?

Let’s get personal with a non-person.

How do you add personality to the inanimate objects in your story?


For today’s practice, write a paragraph that describes the relationship between a main character and a special object of some kind. Perhaps you can show where it came from, how the character feels about it, what qualities the object possesses.

Post your practice in the comments section. And if you post, be sure to give feedback on a few practices by other writers.

About Marianne Richmond

I'm Marianne Richmond—writer, artist and inspirationalist. My words have touched millions over the past two decades through my children's books and gift products. Basically I put love into words and help you connect with the people + moments that matter. You can find me on my website, Facebook, and Twitter (@M_Richmond21).

  • William Teague

    I hope I understood the assignment correctly:
    With a soft cotton cloth Tommy wipes the mouth and neck of an old dusty bottle taken from a wooden box line with straw. He breaks the red wax label seal then pops the cork. With a shit eating grin he holds the bottle up like a trophy and says “All cognac is brandy but not all brandy is cognac. Nothing has quite the sound as cognac when poured from the mouth of 100 year old bottle of Croizet Bonaparte”, and he pours them each of glassful and continue, “The pour is a soft but dense gulp, a sound like that of galloping hooves of distant horses upon a carpet of moss in the Scottish Highlands. Unlike Lesser brandies, the difference is compared to a fine play of the cello versus that of a transistor radio …tuned to an AM station.”

    • I liked it William. “The difference is compared to a fine play of the cello versus that of a transistor radio…” I liked that. So contrasting. Especially when you threw in the AM station.

      • William Teague

        Thank you for your nice comments.

    • Susan Anderson

      I liked it too. The ‘hooves of distant horses’ makes a good correlation.

  • Toesocks

    North Dakota autumn feels like southern mid-winter. Frost kissed sidewalks. Frozen grass. Leaves break instead of crunch under lined boots and wool socks. Everyone is always a bit more careful now that once again nature turns to glass, preserving the growth and death of last year’s song and dance.

    It’s the time of year when Jamie Lughbur digs into the bottom drawer of the beast of her all wood dresser, unpacking her graded to keep bodies warm at -40 degree jackets, long sleeved thermals, wool hats, gloves, face warmer, ear muffs and her specially knitted fashion boot socks that are more like a mug sleeve than anything sock related, a subject she cared for greatly. She digs and digs until the only thing left at the end of this yearly Jamie winterizing ritual of emptying Gargantuan Drawer the 12th is Biscuit.

    Jamie greets Biscuit like she would a long lost friend. “Hello there stranger!”. She wrapped her yellow, hand spun, painstakingly cabled knitted around her neck in such a way that hid her black bra straps better than her tired shirt could. Biscuit sighed and relaxed around Jamie’s shoulders instantly giving Jamie the energy of an emerging spring.

    So goes that when November hits in the Great Dakota of North everything slows down. People ensure that their cars have auto start so that they can hibernate the best humans can in this day and age. School continues. Work continues, and the economy still bustles on, but it’s done with the intent of retreating to our home-cave as quickly as possible screw the cold thank you very much. But not Jamie. Not since Biscuit came wrapped in light blue and housed in a take out box.

    She had pondered that day again as she had for the past three years when Biscuit coughed. “Hugh hummm!” seconds before her “you need to leave now” alarm went off. Jamie grabbed her keys and walked to her car. Noticing the neighbor directly above her ground floor apartment sporting a parka and what appeared to be three layers of gloves staring at her in awe she slowed down just a tad. He saw her gliding over the ice crusted parking lot in nothing but a hoodie and jeans.

    “Jamie!” Biscuit noticed as well.

    “At least I wore boots” said Jamie.

    The drive to Fargo is never fun. A flat, never ending wall of white throwing daggers at every driver’s eyeballs. Such a treat.Jamie moved on anyway, going the speed limit and not a mile below it, scaring the crap out of the other slower going due to weather conditions drivers on the road. “We must be closer to town already” Jamie thought as she slowed down to blend in.

    She rubbed her hands over Biscuits soft, pale yellow yarn. She swore she could feel her purr under her fingers. Why did she come to her on that cold, October day? She didn’t know. All she knew was that the whole situation was odd. She had moved from Ohio to start a new life in a place where the economy didn’t slug along like the winters here seemed to. She applied for jobs like a rabid dog, sending her twice edited resume to a number of jobs greater than the ones available in the classified section of her hometown newspaper. A week later she got a bite. A desk job at a call center that paid twice what she made an hour. Sold! She drove to the middle of nowhere as fast as she could. Apartments proved to be a challenge to find, and yet she landed a nice one with a low-ish rent payment. All utilities included. A gem. Unheard of.

    • Susan Anderson

      So goes that when November hits in the Great Dakota of North everything slows down. People ensure that their cars have auto start so that they can hibernate the best humans can in this day and age. School continues. Work continues, and the economy still bustles on, but it’s done with the intent of retreating to our home-cave as quickly as possible screw the cold thank you very much. But not Jamie. Not since Biscuit came wrapped in light blue and housed in a take out box. (I like this paragraph.)
      I like the name of your sweater, Biscuit. I can’t really describe it as literary as I’d like, but somehow you connect the cold climate with the dormancy of the economy and fuse that with being brave to face all that for a job that pays decent. Naming the sweater seems to lend a sense of security to you, kind of like bringing along your teddy bear, to remind you of home. Nice job.

    • you are a strong writer with a strong voice! I love the name Biscuit and how “alive” you made her with just that name. A lot of good writing here : “A flat, never ending wall of white throwing daggers at every driver’s eyeballs”. “She drove to the middle of nowhere as fast as she could.” Good work!

  • Brianna Worlds

    For the most part, Jane does not tend to become emotionally attached to objects. Being the unbearably practical girl she is, she finds it silly to have feelings for a collection of thoughtless matter. However, no matter how much she denies it, she has begun to have an attachment to… Her sword. Nope, it’s not even something like her grandmother’s necklace, her late dad’s wedding band, her first and favourite stuffed animal. It’s a sword, commonly thought of as a crude, cruel method of cutting down rows of humans with merciless drive. But to Jane the sword meant so much more than death to her. In fact, she didn’t think about death at all when she caught sight of it– to her it meant art, it meant peace, it meant the oblivion of a painless moment. Her sword had saved her from times of listless depression, dangerous anger, and quick assassination. It was the one thing that felt right in her hand; balanced, light, easy, quick, like a feather… but, well, more solid. And deadlier. In her hand, it was a pen in the hand of a writer, a paint brush in the hands of a painter, a violin in the hand of a violinist. It was her tool of the trade, the one that dragged and caught her in times of trouble, and it seemed like so much more than welded metal sharpened to a point, made only for sliding through flesh and bone.

    Jane knew she was being ridiculous.
    She told herself that she didn’t care.
    Well, that certainly didn’t turn out… In fact, it’s really weird. Oh, well XD

    • Susan Anderson

      Interesting. I like that you compared the sword to a pen, a paintbrush, a violin.

      • Brianna Worlds

        I’ll take that as a compliment XD Thanks!

        • Susan Anderson

          It is certainly a compliment. 🙂

          • Brianna Worlds

            Well then, thanks again!! 😀

    • “The sword meant so much more than death to her.” That line had be stop and think for a while. Interesting piece. Trying to figure out why she had that attachment.

      • Brianna Worlds

        Thank you! 🙂 It probably doesn’t make too much sense without the back story, sorry XD

    • I liked this Brianna – love the surprise of a girl’s attachment to a sword and the ways you describe why:” In her hand, it was a pen in the hand of a writer, a paint brush in the hands of a painter, a violin in the hand of a violinist” – very cool. Nice job!

      • Brianna Worlds

        Thank you!! 😀 😀

  • I LOVE this post, Marianne. I have an attraction to stories where objects have personalities like in The Brave Little Toaster. Lamp, Blankie, etc. How I wish I could write those stories! I have written bits about this quilt on the practice before – since it will play an important part in my WIP, I wrote something new today….

    The antique dealer offered Julia five thousand dollars for the quilt. Five thousand dollars gave her another thirty days in the house. It would pay the next mortgage payment and land taxes. Julia could get a lot done in those thirty days. Sell more things from the house. Buy more time…

    She lay her hand on the quilt she had spread out on the antique harvest table in the kitchen. She traced a few stitches with her finger. Eye stitch, bird track, feather stitch. Each stitch so small, so deliberate, Julia wondered about the hands that had thread the needle and pushed it up through the fabric to create such uniform tracks. Collectors called it a Crazy Quilt. Crazy Quilts were made of the bits and pieces of a life, their charm the fact that there was no pattern to the pieces of cloth sewn together to create it. A piece of a worn pair of dungarees, a triangle of a velvet party dress, or a rectangle of grandma’s table cloth that was stained when Uncle Nestor knocked over a bottle of Grandpa’s home made wine…

    But to Julia, it was the Story Blanket. It had belonged to her Aunt Jean, her father’s elder sister she had never met. Aunt Jean had lived alone in Montana and had willed it to her because she had no children of her own. Julia was ten years old when it arrived from Red Lodge in a plain brown box with a note. “I wish I had a daughter named Julia. If I did, I would have wrapped her up in this quilt and its stories”…

    • Susan Anderson

      We have two quilts in the family that I used to keep boxed up and protected. Now, I keep one on our bed and one of my sons has the other, far away at college. It comforts me to think that he has a bit of heritage, a piece of ancestry. It was his great great- grandmother’s handiwork. I like to think that she prayed as she sewed them. Maybe she pictured a grandson wrapped in it as he lay down after a hard day?

    • William Teague

      I really enjoyed this especially the vivid texture and the way you write about the quilts history. I don’t know much about sewing or quilting but I did understand that you were talking about certain type of stitch and this piece is full with action. Still I kind of wish she can find a better way to make ends meet and not have to sell the quilt. Nice piece.

      • thx, William. Am not sure if she WILL sell the quilt yet – she needs to sell everything in her house to be able to keep it, but the quilt is special and I think it has meaning I have yet to figure out!

    • Deborah

      This is delightful, Margaret. I love the way you described the quilt as ‘made of the bits and pieces of a life’. The quilt thereafter becomes a magical thing, holding snippets of memories like someone’s diary.

      • thanks, Deborah! I could use one wrapped around me today – dark and rainy here.

    • Marianne Richmond

      Thank you Margaret. This is just lovely. The detail — the stitches. My grandmother made a quilt for my dad… I just brought that quilt to my house after he passed. It is such a link to the past. Yes – the stories it tells.

      • thanks for reading it, Marianne. I’m surprised how many relate to quilts. So many metaphors in them I’m looking to explore.

  • Susan Anderson

    I stepped low down into my mother in law’s sports car. One of those models that sits under a car port and only gets driven to the grocery store, the bank, and church on Sunday. She was classic. Older, yet better with time, because as a 2003, she had just 42,000 miles on her. Now she was mine. We are grateful, because with three kids in college, we could use another car, but not another payment.
    I drove her to the beach to see my Dad. We took her for a spin up to Flagler Beach and Dad was amazed at how cool the whole set up was. Brand new looking sports car, driven by an 86 year old lady who was ready for a newer car. Talk about irony. Dad asked, “Did you thank her?” I replied, “Not enough.”
    I get looks from men that I don’t get driving around my mini-van I call, ‘Vanna White.’ Vanna is dependable and pretty, but in a mid-life way. In ‘Little Blue’, I feel young, free, and fuel efficient.
    I figured that it was the least I could do to write a decent thank you note to Granny. If I could convey how much I love the car, that may show how grateful I am.
    Dear Mom,
    I just got the new title in the mail for the car. I am so appreciative for your generosity. You could have traded her in and put that money towards your new car, but you let us have ‘Little Blue’ instead. She is great on gas and is fun to drive. Come to think of it, she reminds me of when I was a college swimmer. Hmmm, ‘Little Blue.” Isn’t that what the turtle in “Finding Nemo” calls the blue Tang fish, named ‘Dory’?
    Okay then. That’s her name. ‘Dory.’ My new car. The little swimmer. Guess what? The first three letters on the license plate say, BMW.
    Thanks and Love,

    • Liked it Susan. Could sense how you must have felt going for a ride in “Dory.”

      • Susan Anderson

        Thanks Anne. It is strange how when we personify objects, we see that they personify us, pretty likely.

    • this line is great: “One of those models that sits under a car port and only gets driven to the grocery store, the bank, and church on Sunday” Says a lot about the narrator…

      • Susan Anderson

        Yes, Thank you Margaret. Our things tell stories about us, don’t they? Our mail, our trash, our cars, our stuff…

  • She held it in her pocket. Often she’d slip the little compact out of it’s satin case just to look at it. The blue rhinestones were set in a perfect circle on the brushed gold face. A little button on the side opened the lid. She could still smell traces of make-up that was long gone, just like her mom. She remembered sneaking into her mom’s room. Opening the dresser drawer, looking for the brown vinyl jewelry box. Once open all the rhinestones smiled at her. But she moved them aside looking for her favorite, the compact case. She was too young to wear make-up and old enough to know. Now an adult, she fingered the rhinestones noticing two were missing. This case outlasted most of her family. Seven people down to two. Slipping the compact back into its satin case she smiled. Mom would ask her, “Did you go into my jewelry box.” “No,” she’d answer. But everyone knew otherwise.

    • William Teague

      Once opened all the rhinestones smiled at her. Nice. I really love the comparison between the smell of the make up and her mom that are long gone. A lot of strength in smells and tastes.

    • Susan Anderson

      I’ve been there. I love the smell of make-up. The Coty Air-Spun powder, smells like a classy lady to me. I imagine my Grandma using it in her hey day. Also, I did plenty of snooping around in my mom’s things when I was a kid.

      • Susan,
        My grandson will look in a drawer to see the treasures hiding from him. It just makes me smile. I look at him and see me.

    • oh boy Anne, this brought back so many memories of digging in my grandmother’s trunk and finding her bejeweled compact – I remember the sweet powdery smell when I opened it, to this day a scent that makes me yearn for her….

      • Yes those memories that are tucked away until we read something, taste something, or smell. They say that smell is the one that is the best at reminding us of things in our past. Smelling freshly brewed coffee takes me back to my grandma’s house when we lived downstairs and would come upstairs for a cup of mostly white heavily sugared coffee. Nothing was as sweet, except maybe grandma.

    • Marianne Richmond

      The rhinestones smiled at her! LOVE that line. And that smell of pressed powder. Unmistakeable, isn’t it? She remembered sneaking into her mom’s room. What prompted her to sneak? When she needed reassurance? When she wanted to glimpse into the adult world of woman-hood?

      • She sneaked in there because she had been told repeatedly to stay out of the jewelry box. And yet, those jewels beckoned her to come. I was a curious child like my grandson, Jude. I smile when I watch his eyes open in wonder at whatever he is looking at. He LOVES exploring.

  • Claire

    She opened the top lid of the black square case carefully and noticed that the hinges creaked a bit, but other than that, it was in good shape. Completely lifting the lid exposed it—jet black, shiny and pristine. It was the vintage Remington Rand typewriter that her father had given her when she was in high school.

    She carefully removed it from the case and placed it on the designated place she had chosen in the study of her new home. Finally, a place to display it, to show it off. She felt as though “Remy,” as she used to call her, was reveling in this moment. Her bright keyboard seemed to be saying, “Hey, look at me. I’m being showcased in this new spot!”

    It was on Remy that she learned how to type. This was also made possible with a college typing book that her father had gotten along with the typewriter. She was a self-taught typist thanks to Remy and her dad. For her, having been able to give Remy a place of her own in her new home was an homage to her long-gone and still sorely missed father. For now, she still had Remy.

    • Susan Anderson

      Awesome. I have a thing for old typewriters. My adopted daughter picked one up for me at a thrift store. I was so touched. In your piece, I wonder if Dad understood that his memory would live on through a typewriter? Very personal, and sentimental. Remy is a good name.

      • Claire

        Thanks for your comment, Susan. I appreciate it. I can tell you that Dad knew the significance that Remy had and currently has. Being on display, is a constant reminder of dad’s generosity and love. And if I may…here’s Remy!

        • Susan Anderson

          “Remy” suits it. 🙂

    • Marianne Richmond

      Oh the memories my mom’s typewriter brings back. How I wish I would have kept it. I can still remember her typing our school papers on it. She was so fast. When I read about Remy above, she seems dependable, generous and oh, so giving. I would love to hear more about the relationship between “She” and “Remy.” Did she trust Remy to bring out the very best in her? She gave her freedom of thought for sure…

      • Claire

        Marianne, thanks for your comment. All the qualities you delineate about Remy are spot-on. Many school papers were typed on her before an electric Olivetti came along, and the latter with all its modern technology and features broke down, while Remy still exists. Goes to show you that these types of antiques are still around for a reason—resiliency and superlative engineering.

  • Deborah

    She was sweet, she was kind and she was beautiful. Her name was Louisa, and she gave Diane a freedom she had never known before. It was nestled in Louisa’s front bucket seat that Diane did her first driving test, and passed. From that day on they were inseparable.

    Louisa’s ducco was a bright, brave cerise, and the lines of her Torana coupe body were smooth and sleek. She was given to Diane’s boyfriend by his father, and without her, Jake and Diane would have been car-less.

    Diane loved the car from the minute her new boyfriend first allowed her to sit in the driver’s seat. The curve of the bucket seat was like a hug from a friend, and the feel of the steering wheel in her hand seemed to whisper ‘you and I are going to go places together!’

    Diane could never remember how she knew the car’s name. Perhaps Louisa had introduced herself, on that first day? However it happened, the name fitted the car like a glove, and the car fitted Diane like a friend.

    She followed Jake and Diane to Sydney after their wedding. She cradled their first child in her cosy back seat. Diane was heartbroken when they had to trade Louisa in for a bigger car, to accommodate their second child. “I’ll never forget you!” she whispered, as she saw her dear friend being driven away by a stranger.

    If ever you see a bright pink 1976 Torana coupe, make sure you introduce yourself.

    • Susan Anderson

      Diane could never remember how she knew the car’s name. Perhaps Louisa had introduced herself, on that first day? However it happened, the name fitted the car like a glove, and the car fitted Diane like a friend. (I liked this). Some names just fit. It’s tough when we move on into the future and grow out of things. It is hard to say goodbye. I’ve been through that with a car too.

      • Deborah

        I appreciated your comment, Susan. I’ve also been in love with a house, and even though it’s been long demolished, it is still the yardstick with which I measure any other house. It didn’t have a name, by the way.

        • Susan Anderson

          I usually name a house by the street it was on. Maybe houses are like people. Like each room would have a different name, so it would be difficult to name the whole house. Just a thought. 🙂

    • Marianne Richmond

      Think about the things are cars our privy to — the times I get in my car and pray my way to the next destination or how I use that space to VENT because I am alone. Or the times I sit next to a kid having a conversation that wouldn’t be possible in another venue. I would love to know what you liked about that name, Louisa. Did it feel feminine to you… beautiful? Did it remind you of an old friend?

      • Deborah

        Strangely enough, I’d never known anyone named Louisa. The name just popped into my head and stayed there, and felt so right, somehow. My latest love is an old, green MX 5, who told me that his name (yes, this car is male) is McTavish.

  • Maria

    Everything was brand-new to Abha. New Country, new parents, and even new siblings. Everyone at the orphanage were telling him how lucky he was, but for the eight year old child there was no luck in moving from India to Britain.
    The first night on his new home was an stormy one. He didn´t like storms, never did, it was just as if an scaring witch was after him, flying with nightmares above the city. Suddenly his bedroom door cracked open, it was Arthur. His new sibling, he was bringing something stuff on his arms – a dinosaur with red spots. “It helps with nightmares” he explained handing it towards the child. From that moment on the dinosaur never left his side.