I was going to do a ‘Ye Olde Boat Shoppe’ until my son and I reached a specific episode of the anime called ‘One Piece’. I’d already chosen the Going Merry picture, but this episode focused on her. If anyone has watched the anime or read the manga, you might know what part I’m talking about. (No spoilers in comments!) This spot really brought out how the ship was a character alongside the human (and Reindeer) ones. This got me thinking about how inanimate objects can have personality in fiction.
This goes beyond the literary tool of personification. That’s when you connect a human trait to an inanimate object, but it’s kind of brief. This is taking a long-term object and making people feel for it. Not easy and many times it’s done by accident. Yes, personification does play a role, but I would say that this is the next level. Maybe you start with that, but then it evolves to something more. This item now has a presence in any scene that it’s shown in. Not enough to steal the scene, but the audience will know it’s there and care about its fate.
What are some trends with this concept?
- Typically, this is done with constantly used items such as transportation, weapons, and other pieces of gear. It can be something small, but it’s usually something big with a common use. This way, the object can be included in events more often than one with a narrow focus. For example, a warrior’s sword will have a better chance of this happening than a favorite whetstone. The audience is going to see the former in action and with more focus than the latter.
- There may be a backstory to the item like it belonging to someone important prior to the current owner. It could have been a gift, which creates a scene that establishes its emotional connection. Another option is it being a family heirloom and having it involved in events from the beginning. This type of item doesn’t even need a use so much as a presence.
- These items tend to get named as well, which helps to bring attention to it. A reader will differentiate this one item from others of its kind. For example, the Going Merry is specifically the boat of the Strawhat Pirates. It does have a unique aspects such as the figurehead, flag, and tangerine trees. Yet, it’s still a ship and giving it a name makes it stand out. You can have an entire fleet of ships that are each different in appearance, but the Going Merry will stand out if it’s the only one with a name.
One of the reasons this is done is to create an emotional bridge if the object is broken or lost. The owner is going to be upset for obvious reasons. By giving the object a personality and/or presence, the author can make the audience feel the same way. Not to the same extent, but enough that the event has more impact. Clearly, this is easier with living things because we naturally feel bad when something dies. If we’re talking about something that was never alive to begin with then it’s harder to create that gut punch without getting the audience to care.
So, what do you think about this? Ever have an inanimate object that people really cared about in the books you read or wrote?