Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Building with Objects

Inside this box is storyteller's magic. Oh, it may only look like an old French chocolates tin, but it contains seven objects we're going to use today to world-build. Let's open it up and have a look, shall we?

It appears we have a small red tin, an even tinier distressed tin, a leather patch, a carved shell pendant, a wee photograph pin, an old skeleton key and metal badge of some sort. Seven objects in all, and each one possesses the three characteristics of world-building potential: 1) they're interesting to me, 2) they can serve some purpose and 3) I don't know anything about them except that they all came from France.

Let's start with the red tin:

As you saw when we took it from the box the red tin has four cards and the word "Byrrh" on the top. When I opened it I found a little pamphlet with a smiling lady and a couple of paragraphs in French. Obviously this was an advertising tin, and from what I can translate Byrrh was some sort of wine tonic. That doesn't matter to me, because I already know what it's going to be in my universe: a playing card box for a game that will be the Toriana version of strip poker, and which will be played by adventurous lovers in private chambers (I will definitely change the name of the game to Brrr, the sound one sometimes makes when playing cards in one's birthday suit.)

It wasn't difficult to think up that purpose because everything about the tin suggested it to me, from the word on the top, the image of the playing cards, the tin's color, and the smiling lady inside. I let the object meet my imagination and now I have a naughty new game for my universe.

Onward to the next:

When I look inside the tiny distressed tin, I find a collection of old white and red buttons, two religious metals, an enameled tie tac for the Cambras Club, a pen nib and a franc. I think this little box belonged to a child who slowly collected the contents as secrets treasures. They're all the sort of thing you'd find dropped on the floor by a desk or a vanity, too, so it could also belong to a lady's maid or a housekeeper. Perhaps every thrifty Torian female carries such a box of bits in her apron pocket or reticule. I'll have to think more on this one.

I love this leather patch, because it has a crown with the name Marche above a crest of three lions against a field of fleur-de-lis. My first thought was three brother warriors who earned their titles in battle (the lions) while serving the monarchy (the crown). What happened to the Marche family after that? Did they remain in their homeland, loyal to the crown, or did they leave for Toriana, to start a new life? Or to do something for the crown? Are the Marches spies hiding in plain sight behind the old glory of their lineage? I'm thinking they are.

As for the rest of the objects, they're all telling me new things about my universe:

Did you know that cameos in Toriana are carved from abalone shells, because it's plentiful and considered more beautiful than the traditional sort?

Keys topped with laurel leaf carvings open more than doors in Rumsen, I think.

The metal badge, which has been stamped with the images of buildings and the name of a city, is actually a token used by the Tillers to send minions to a secret location.

The wee portrait of the unsmiling girl intrigues me most. She's so young and yet she's practically glaring at me, daring me to discover her story. The lovely setting of this pin (which is what is was once upon a time before the back fastener broke) has one whorl shaped like a wing. Someone loved this child enough to wear her portrait like a jewel, and the wing suggest angels and wishing and protection. I think this could be a miniature of Kit, and it may have belonged to Rachel, her mother.

Collecting random objects and studying them as to how they might fit into your world can spark all sorts of new ideas on which you can build. All you need are objects that interest you, and they're not difficult to hunt down -- you can find them in thrift stores or at flea markets and garage sales, left behind in books, purses or jewelry boxes, or in your own junk drawer at home. You may even find something discarded on the ground while you're out walking. Every object has a history and/or a purpose locked inside it, waiting for you to reveal it in your storytelling.


  1. Wow! What a wonderful way to world-build. I'm going to try this.

    1. It's incredibly fun, not just collecting the objects but letting your imagination run with them. Definitely try junk shops or second hand stores for your object hunts, too -- sometimes I buy a shoebox of miscellaneous stuff that turns out to be a little goldmine of worldbuilding materials. :)