Typewriter and lampAn element of fiction that is too often overlooked is props. Props are the items that appear in the narrative and are part of the story, but they don’t take center stage in the story. To see what I mean, think about how you start your day. Your alarm clock goes off. You use the toilet. You hop in the shower. You scarf down breakfast so you don’t miss the bus to work.

What are the props in your morning routine? The alarm clock. The toilet. The shower. The bus. And probably a bunch of others.

Melissa Donovan’s post on Writing Forward (https://www.writingforward.com/) gives some great information on how to use props in your fiction writing.

Let’s go back to your morning routine. What if your story is set in the eighteenth century? There were no alarm clocks, toilets, showers, or buses back then. In the case of historical fiction, then, you need to know the details of everyday objects and how people used them. You also need to think about which ones are important to your story. You may never need to show how characters bathed in the eighteenth century—but then again, you just might.

If you’re writing fantasy or science fiction, you may need to invent your own props. You will have to name things that didn’t exist until you made them up.

If you’re writing contemporary fiction, you probably don’t pay much attention to props. Your story takes place in the real world with which we are all familiar, so readers would expect to see computers, mobile phones, cars, and a host of other items that everybody uses. But that doesn’t let you off the hook: as an author, you need to think about which props are necessary to your story, which props will enrich your story, and which can go unmentioned—regardless of the genre.

Alarm clockYour Exercise:

Think about a book or story you’ve recently read. Without looking at it, try to list at least ten props that appeared in the story.

Now write a few words about the significance of each prop to the narrative. Was it just part of the setting? Was it used in the action? Was it essential to the story? Did it enrich the narrative in some way?

Now flip through the book or story and find ten more items. Answer the same questions about those.

Your Practice:

Quickly sketch a summary for a book or story you’d like to write. Keep it brief—it should be no more than 250 words. Include the time and place, the story’s general concept and premise, at least three key characters, and a few sentences describing the plot. Don’t try to come up with a masterpiece—just keep it simple.

Now make a list of fifteen props that will appear in the story. Five of those should be part of the story’s setting but not essential to the plot. Another five should be objects that the characters use or with which they interact. The final five should be absolutely necessary to the story.


Now ask yourself a few questions. How do props provide important clues about a story? Should all props be necessary to a story in some way? What can props tell us about the setting, plot, and characters? How can props be used in place of description or exposition?


Melissa DonovanMelissa’s post was inspired by her book, Story Drills: Fiction Writing Exercises, available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble online, and iBooks.

(Photos: typewriter, liminalpages.com; alarm clock, Etsy; Melissa Donovan, Writing Forward) 


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