When a Stiletto Isn't Just a Stiletto (Or What Our Characters Carry)
In a recent Confidence Coaching session, a Grub writer was showing me a story about two homesick characters. One of them—a boy—had several personal possessions that he carried on his journey, while the girl had brought little with her. She was traveling light. The writer knew that the character who’d left her possessions behind was on an emotional journey to try and detach from home. She wanted to abandon so much, but of course, when there is love, no matter how complex or broken, letting go isn’t usually so easy.
The discussion of our possessions and how they often become a part of us is certainly a deep one. In fact, I recently published a novel that centres around this. In Confessions of a Kinky Divorcee, the main character, Debs, discovers that while a friend might call her love of shoes superficial, her true attachment to beautiful shoes is anything but. “I know Gladys has apologized for mocking my interest in shoes,” Debs tells her diary, “but still, if a shoe can give you power and confidence—and in my case, transform me into a dominatrix—that isn’t a shallow affair. I mean, would Winston Churchill have taken Britain to war if he’d had less confidence? Would Princess Diana have given to all those charities if she felt squat and unimportant?”
Yet in a society that is obsessed with owning new things, should we really be focusing on our characters’ possessions? I believe so. I'm happy that I chose to write about shoes, in my novel, because they are often considered to be frivolous objects, particularly when they feature high heels. (Interestingly, I’m not so into shoes, myself!) But it isn’t the nature of the object that counts in terms of character development—it is more the way the owner imbues their possessions, until such objects feel like part of their very being. To call a character superficial because of their love of shoes might miss the true meaning of those shoes. What do those shoes allow that character to achieve? Do they hold them back? Or bring them on in spades?
Recently, while I was planning a new online course about sexuality and mermaids, I came across the folklore of the Crane Bag. In several mythologies, the Crane Bag is thought to contain the possessions that are part of our spiritual being—the objects that are us, that express us, that contain us. “Symbolically,” says Lucy Cavendish, author of the Oracle of Mermaids, “it is a bag that contains the needs of the soul, and it was fashioned out of lasting love.” The Crane Bag is a myth that teaches us to carry the very possessions that express our deepest selves.
What a wonderful aspect to character development! A Crane Bag that our characters carry—one that we, perhaps, will be unable to open, until we know them well enough. But another Confidence Coaching client recently reminded me that we, as writers, have a Writing Crane Bag too. She was finding it hard to write, so we focused, for a moment, on her environment—a discussion that led her to clear her desk and place a vase of flowers on top. The result? The desk became the desk she wanted to write at, and the flowers became the flowers that brought the beauty of line and word.
And in my Writing Crane Bag there is a worn old laughing Buddha and a Brewers Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. And a paperweight that contains the pieces of an old-fashioned watch, exploded within the glass—a memory of the father who loved the elegant systems that keep our world ticking on.
Lana Fox is an erotic writing instructor at Grub Street, who teaches "Go Deeper, Baby: Writing Meaningful Erotica." She also provides Confidence-Building Manuscript Consultations via Grub—you can email her about it here.
Photo credit: By Summerdrought (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
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