Why talking statues or clocks can feature in even the grittiest of stories.
Why wouldn’t a little dog ornament on my desk start chatting? Why wouldn’t Bernard, an enormous plant I’ve tended to for years, strike up a conversation with me? In all honesty, if any of my plants or knick-knacks started talking to me, I’d be thrilled.
I’ve never thought it odd to speak to inanimate objects or hope that they might speak to me. I’ve never though it unrealistic in a book that the narrator is a clock or a statue or a painting. It’s why I love speculative fiction. As a writer and reader your imagination can run riot. There are no limits to what can happen, to who can say what, to who can hear what. I love books that surprise me.
I can see some of you shaking your heads: No, I don’t like those kinds of stories. I’m never going to write anything featuring a talking teapot. Has she lost the plot?
‘I like my fiction grounded in realism,’ one of my students told me recently when I was waxing lyrical about talking pebbles and streams. ‘I can’t write about a talking tree,’ said another. ‘It doesn’t seem real.’
But, don’t we all sometimes speak to the spider whose web we’ve just accidentally destroyed on our way to work? I’m so sorry. I hope you can spin another. I’ll be more careful in future. Don’t we sometimes give pep talks to ailing plants? You can do it. You can. I’ve given you a bigger pot and you’ll like the better drainage, you will. I’m telling you.
Is it not reasonable then to imagine them talking back? For goodness sake, says the spider. You’re so clumsy. It’s the third web you’ve ruined this week. Or, I just can’t go on, says the plant. My roots have given up. I’m going to have to say goodbye but thanks for the pep talks. You’ve been lovely.
I can still see some of you shaking your heads and throwing the word ‘realism’ back at me.
So, if playfulness doesn’t do it for you, let’s stick with realism. What about the lonely old woman who sees no one apart from a carer for half an hour each morning? (Sadly, an all too real situation.) I’m guaranteeing you that she would have conversations with that ornamental dancer that sits on top of her telly. She’d definitely talk to it; it would definitely talk back. Loneliness does that to you: it forces you to be creative and give a voice to things.
If you’ve created a realistic child character in your novel, it’s likely that that child will have an ‘imaginary friend’ whose voice they can hear and whose whims they need to attend to, as clearly as they hear and interact with any actual humans in your story.
Other scenarios steeped in realism might involve someone who is exhausted or stressed and starting to hear voices. Maybe you have a character who is unraveling slowly, in pain, or mentally ill and unable to distinguish between what is real and what isn’t. Perhaps there’s a man whose partner mocks and belittles him, forcing him to take comfort from the kettle when it tells him he’s actually amazing and should leave.
These are all very real, gritty scenarios, all worth exploring as writers who love realism.
For more information on my Giving Objects a Voice workshop, drop me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org