On Stories: Setting part 2: Don’t forget the props.

Apart from location, there is another important aspect to setting that must be considered.  I call it props (comes from too much work on stage), but in the analogy of the house, we should think of it as the furniture and all of the things and knick-knacks that make a house into a home.  This does not mean that everything needs to be mentioned.  Too much period detail can put a reader to sleep.  Instead, like the location of the story, the props must also advance the story and move it forward, and if it does not, why bring it up?

Continuing with the story of Cinderella, we can see immediately that there are several vital props

First:  There is her mother’s old dress which the Stepmother finds and shreds. 

Now, I was thinking in the Too Big to Fail storyline (from the last post), and instead of a Christmas party, it could be some excuse for a masquerade party.  The Boss might let slip to the Stepmom that he is proud of his son’s MBA, but he really wishes the boy would find a nice girl and settle down.  The stepmom promptly gets her daughters dressed and ready.  Cinderella might also find a party costume in one of her mother’s old trunks, but Stepmom can find out and shred the thing.  Same business, but something has to happen for the reversal—for the story to work

Second:  There must be some way to tell the time.  In an ancient setting, the rising or setting of the moon might work, but otherwise the story must be set far enough in the direction of the present for there to be clocks to chime.  Did you think of that?

Third:  The slippers.  Can’t have Cinderella without slippers.  At least it must be something that comes in pairs.  I suppose gloves might work, but the Prince (or boss’ son) and Cinderella should have the chance to touch, hand to hand.  Anyway, a pair of something is vital for the final reversal, where the Stepmother breaks the slipper rather than let Cinderella try it on.  (aha!  Cinderella has the other one). 

When looking at props, even from scene to scene, you need to consider carefully what to include and what not to include.  Perhaps the most important point to remember is that for most of the time, the world must be filtered through the senses of your character. Like us, your character will notice/perceive the world based on who they are (what they enjoy) and what has meaning for them in their lives and the situation in which they find themselves. For example:

When the time traveler is ushered into the room to await her host, what will she notice? The Victorian loveseat, the drapes, the crossed swords over the fireplace, the large portrait of her host’s dead wife or the grandfather clock that chimes 4 o’clock, tea time? The only wrong answer is probably none of the above.

One might think the clock is a given for a time traveler, but she might make furniture as a hobby (or her husband might) and so the loveseat might be scrutinized and seen as well made with an expensive fabric. Then the drapes might be an Indian fabric, indicating that her Victorian host served time in India. Or if the host is a suspected vampire, she might notice that the drapes are drawn tight against any possible sunlight. If she is in a dangerous situation, her eye will be drawn to the swords (and any other potential weapons in the room), and then maybe the portrait looks like her, or someone she knew or met (time traveler) or like her Aunt Grace, or perhaps she might look at it to try and get some insight into this former Indian military officer who might be a vampire and is certainly a threat…

With all of that she might hardly notice the clock, time traveler though she is.

You can see that props in the overall story and from scene to scene must be chosen with care.  A typical home is full of junk, especially if you are like me and keep things.  Only make sure you don’t fill your story with junk.  Every piece should relate to the story you are telling.  Every piece should relate to the characters, too; but to get a handle on “character in setting”, as you might call it, we will need to look a character formation… next time.

2 thoughts on “On Stories: Setting part 2: Don’t forget the props.

    • I appreciate the comment. Whenever I wander around blogland I try to say something encouraging and positive about someone’s blog. I think most people appreciate a note so don’t be shy, and I am glad you liked the post.
      -Michael

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