The World Within the Object

earth-with-continents-in-water-bottle-thumb4563713“The longer you look at one object, the more of the world you see in it; and it’s well to remember that the serious fiction writer always writes about the whole world, no matter how limited his particular scene.” –Flannery O’Connor

I’ve often said that, as fiction writers, our goal should be to attain the same powers of perception as a detective. But now, I wonder if our call is somewhat higher.

Flannery O’Connor has some of the greatest writing advice you’ll read in Mystery and Manners. I often come back to it when stumped on how to proceed in my story or novel. She never disappoints. If you don’t have a copy of this incredible book, I’d highly recommend it. Read it with a highlighter handy.

So what does O’Connor mean when she says that we can see the world within an object? Exactly that. Each object retains a portion of something larger, it suggests more than itself. A simple bottle of water, comprised of plastic, contains the fundamental element of life within it. But beyond that, if we truly look, we’ll see suggestions of the world itself: condensation settling on the outside (water cycle), the screw-top cap (intelligent design, functionality, order), the blue label (marketing, color, emotion), a bar code (economy, technology).

Taking these elements and combining them, we see the world within the object. Our job as writers is to tease it out, to tempt it into revealing its full implications. And while I doubt any of us will write an entire novel about a bottle of water, there’s nothing to say the bottle may not play a vital role, may stand as a symbol, may suggest the world within the object, the world within your character, the world within your novel.

Observation makes fiction breathe. It’s a practice, a habit, that must be formed.

8 Comments on The World Within the Object

  1. Summer Connell | February 6, 2013 at 10:05 pm | Reply

    When writing about a certain thing I usually put too much or too little. Sometimes I put to little because I feel like I’m being dramatic with explaining something. Other times I put too much because I want to be dramatic.

  2. janet anderson | February 7, 2013 at 12:03 pm | Reply

    i get i now that it has been explained to me basically you can be doing anything and you can observe and object and write about it and how it has an impact on the world or anything around it . I myself think if i write about something i might take to much time on that and not including other important things.

  3. I had never thought of having an object be used as something bigger then its daily use. This can make readers think a lot more about what they are reading.

  4. I can honestly say that looking at an object as a bigger, more important factor in life is something I don’t recall ever have making any note to. Now that I’ve read this, I can feel that really anything can be an improtant element to a store. Like you had said, it can be a symbol for these stories. I’m going to try this out. I’m going to see just what I can find that can be seen as a simple object, yet possess an improtant symbol in my writing.

  5. When i do write i overthink it. Most of the times i cant seem to set the mood, its as if im not dramatic enough or i dont know what im doing. The thing is i feel comfortable when i do write and it strikes me as easy. Other times i dont know how to make things dramatic and i blow things out of proportion and ruin everything.

  6. Describing a single object in relation to the whole world can be a metaphor for a something much deeper than the object itself. It can support the theme of a literary work.

  7. JessicaRae Padilla | February 28, 2013 at 9:01 pm | Reply

    When I wrote I have troubles with putting my ideas into full detail. When I first started reading I didn’t understand but then I read it a second time and kinda got the idea, there is more then water that the plastic bottle contains. It indeed holds life, when I wrote I have a point to get across just don’t know how to symbolize and explain what it is in trying to show. I tell more then I show.

  8. dina rodriguez | March 4, 2013 at 4:14 pm | Reply

    Hey ya never know some one could write a whole novel about a water bottle. But you are right we need to not look at things like “Oh look thers a piece of trash.” We should be thinking about it. You could write the life story anout that piece of trash. It could be exciting you never know.

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